After six square feet in area. He shared

After midnight on June
12, 1964, Mandela and his fellow African found themselves bounded and then
flown on an old Dakota military transport plane to Robben Island. Alcatraz—
Devil’s Island—Robben Island—the name was synonymous with repression and
punishment. Historically, colonial authorities had banished troublemaking local
political prisoners to prison isles. In South Africa first the Dutch, then the
British colonialists had used Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, to imprison
African resistance fighters. Some had tried to run away but very few survived
the cold, shark-dominated waters. The prison discipline on Robben (“Seal” in
Dutch) Island was harsh, even cruel. Prisoners were beaten with the warden’s
batons and subjected to racist comments and epithets such as “kaffir. Absurd
forms of racial discrimination was diffused in everything: Africans could have
only tiny amounts of meals. They only received short pants, while Indian or
Colored South Africans received full length pants. They had to sleep on the
hard floor, on thin mats. Robben Island would be very cold in winter and the
prisoners were denied any warmth.

Mandela’s cell was no
more than six square feet in area. He shared the political section of the jail
with his co-accused from the Rivonia Trial: Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed
Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, and Andrew Mlangeni. Every day, the
prisoners were forced to do labour with picks and shovels in a lime quarry,
where in summer the blazing sun reflecting on the limestone permanently damaged
Mandela’s eyes; yet he was not permitted to wear sunglasses for 3 years. The
outdoor work invigorated Mandela. “It felt good to use all of one’s muscles,
with the sun at one’s back.” Mandela refused to let the adversities of jail put
him down. His resistance took many forms: bringing together, stimulating, and
acting as a representative for the other prisoners; opposing racism and cruelty
and demanding fair treatment; and communicating with the outside world, family,
and friends. He fought for basic reforms of harsh prison conditions, no matter
how small and no matter how long it took him, showing his relentless pursuit of
justice, his doggedness, and his dedication. There were hunger strikes,
although this approach was of incomplete success given the island’s seclusion
from the mass media, something that Mandela understood; but still did for the
sake of his fellow prisoners.

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Robben Island was the
living image of the racism of apartheid, but the prisoners transformed the jail
into a “university of the struggle.” At first the Rivonia prisoners, and then
later on more and more ANC and MK prisoners, including an incursion of militant
youth after the 1976 Soweto Revolt, all took educational courses to develop
their technical skills and focus their minds. Encouraged by Mandela, many attained
degrees or high school diplomas through external courses. However, many books
and certain subjects, such as political science, remained prohibited. This resistance
strengthened their unity and allowed a small measure of control over their
lives; after a while, prison authorities abandoned efforts to prevent them from
talking and let the discussions continue. Mandela exercised an authority over
his fellow prisoners

The warders of the
prison often turned to violence against the ordinary convicts, of whom they
were contemptuous. In this situation, Mandela’s bravery, leadership, and tactfulness 

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