I look at the pictures we took when we visited Robben Island. We’re all dressed up and obviously were ready for the camera, “smiles…smiles…smiles, flash”, my friends and I were so happy we finally arrived to this internationally known heritage site, a place rich with history of our leaders, where our late renowned world icon Tata Madiba spent significant amount of time in his lifetime. What inspired smiles on our photos is the invaluable emotion that says we were right there, walking to the same corridors, stepping on their footprints, imagining seeing them within those walls 20 years plus ago. Our Heroes survived within these walls!
Well, locked up in Robben Island, they were no heroes then. Within those walls they were just political prisoners who were tortured and humiliated. More often than not the pain was unbearable. It wasn’t just the physical pain; their spirits too were reaped off. They had a lot to deal with; they were separated from their loved ones, their comrades. They were literally taken away from ‘the struggle’.
Ironically, their involvement in the struggle was what brought them to Robben Island, which became a significant spot in history where they united and formed one voice and continued with the struggle till they succeeded…within those walls. They never gave up on fighting. Their spirits triumphed against all odds. This reflects just how strong the human spirit is.
Now I’m bringing this to you. Yes, YOU! Sometimes you can find yourself in a similar tough situation, feeling reaped off and shaken. Truth is, you are not the first and you will not be the last one to endure such pain. In other words, you are not singled out from the rest of the world to face such difficulties alone. So many other people, you don’t see, are in the same dilemma. I guess you’re asking: “So what?” You’re right, knowing that you are going through what millions other people are going through is not enough to make you feel better – at all. I think the following will help. At this critical moment, this very painful period in your life, think of yourself as a boxing player who has gotten a hard knock that threw him down…now you decide what happens next. Are you going to quit and lose? Or fight and win? The first option is easy, most people would go for it. But you’re not ‘most people’. The second option requires courage, hard work and a winning attitude – that’s what differentiates true heroes from the crowd.
Back to Robben Island photos…These photos say something special happened here. Even though we were told about harsh realities that prisoners faced then, but thinking about their resilient spirits and how they have fought for us all to be free gave us a ‘proud moment’. We have a democratic South Africa today because they didn’t give up on fighting. They kept going.
You too, keep going. You are in the hero-making process. Tomorrow when people hear where you’ve been they will smile, admiring your heroic character, knowing it wasn’t easy but you made it!