South African History

For may years, South Africa had apartheid laws that discriminated against anyone who did not have white skin.

Just seven years ago, black South Africans were not allowed to vote, they could not live in certain areas, and they were not allowed to have certain jobs.

Many people protested against the apartheid laws as being unjust. When these people were arrested and put into prison they were called political prisoners, because they were jailed for their beliefs.

Nelson Mandela spent his life working to change the apartheid laws. Mandela was arrested in 1964, and spent 28 years in jail as a political prisoner. This photo of Mandela is on the wall of Robben Island prison.

When he was finally released in 1990 he was 72 years old. Four years later South Africa had the first presidential elections where everyone, no matter what their skin color, was allowed to vote. Nelson Mandela was elected the president of the new government.

Rather than seeking revenge, and possibly plunging his country into a civil war, Mandela sought reconciliation. He wanted to work together with everyone to build a new and better country.

Many people in South Africa, and around the world, believe Nelson Mandela is one of the great heroes of the twentieth century.

Today, Robben Island prison is a museum. Our guide through the prison is named Robert. Robert was confined as a political prisoner on Robben Island for twenty-two years. When we asked how he could forgive those who put him in prison, and not seek revenge upon his release, he said,

"You can not correct a wrong thing by doing a wrong thing, you can only correct a wrong thing by doing a right thing!"

Like many South Africans, Robert is optimistic about the future of his country now that there are no longer laws which discriminate against people because of the color of their skin.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in this cell for 18 years, and held as a political prisoner for a total of 28 years.
Robert, our guide through Robben Island prison, was held in this cell for 22 years.
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