We kicked off the morning with a reflection. We discussed a range of topics, but what stood out to me most was the discussion about how younger generations interact with older generations. This is a theme that has connected just about every day of our trip – the dynamic between the old guard and the new.
Specifically, we talked about where the responsibility lies to make sure that history is passed on. Should young people ask their parents and grandparents about their lived experiences?
What obligation do elders have to tell young people their stories, even when it is painful or embarrassing? What if many of those experiences were traumatic and difficult to recount? On the other hand, what if those experiences tell a story of complicity with oppression?
How can the education system and the community ensure younger generations understand their history? How can the media retell historical stories to this end? What happens to our relationships, politics and society when they fail?
We left for Robben Island perhaps with more questions than answers.
At the Clock Tower down by Cape Town’s waterfront we got onto a ship called Madiba 1 and jetted quite speedily across the freezing Atlantic water to the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he served. Incredibly, our tour was led by a man who was also held at the prison. In the 60s, he was arrested for attending a meeting in which he and other young students were planning a political protest. He was charged with terrorism and spent five years on Robben Island’s prison. It was moving and sobering to hear from someone who lived through the terrible conditions of the prison, which he described in some detail.
He also described a tension between the older political prisoners and the younger ones like himself. When he and other younger activists arrived, they viewed the older prisoners as submissive to the unjust prison conditions. They couldn’t understand why they weren’t fighting back. Little did they know, he explained, that the conditions of the prison when the young people arrived were actually improved in many ways from what they were to begin with because of the efforts of the older prisoners.
This deeper understanding and appreciation of what came before may be one key to the continuity of progress across generations.
We then explored Cape Town’s central business district and many people practiced their bartering skills for gifts to bring back home. Finally, we spent the evening in the historically Muslim Malay district of Cape Town called Bo-Kaap. On our way to dinner, we happened upon a protest led by the community against the negative effects of gentrification. It was a beautiful mass laid out in the street.
Finally, we were honored to have an incredible Malay meal at Biesmiellah Restaurant.
Danielle Douez is a graduate of Emory University Class of 2013. She works as a politics editor for The Conversation, a non-profit media organization that seeks to bring the ideas and knowledge of academia to the public through journalism. She loves horseback riding and chocolate chip cookies.