Robben Island, used as a prison since the late 17th century, sits tantalizingly close to the shoreline of the African continent. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years here as a political prisoner. He was then transferred to another prison near Cape Town, and finally another near Johannesburg, serving a total of 23 years before his release in 1990.
Our solemn journey to the island begins was a boat ride from the V&A Waterfront.
We take a brief bus tour of main sites around the island then begin a walk tour of particular buildings and prison grounds. Our guide was himself a political prison on the island, serving five years as a young man for his involvement in a student protest while in high school.
He describes the conditions and the mechanisms employed to keep key political prisoners isolated and from one another.
It is a poignant reminder of how far South Africa has come in such a short time, as well as a moment to appreciate the freedoms we sometime take for granted.
In the afternoon, we return to the mainland and take advantage of the clear weather to ascend to the top of Table Mountain.
The views are spectacular and the wind is very strong. We watch the sun dip toward the horizon, with Robben Island in the distance.
Returning to downtown Cape Town to share our final South African meal together, we enjoy dinner and entertainment at the Africa Cafe.
Our faculty leader, Dr. Betty Overton, shares and solicits final thoughts and impressions from the group. It has been an amazing two weeks. Full of learning, full of emotion, full of preconceptions being dismantled about this young democracy whose higher education system faces many similar challenges as in the U.S. A little tired, but with a lot to think about, we return to Ann Arbor.