Letting Go Of The Past (Part M)

by Patrick Liew on December 10, 2013

On 26 December 2012, I stood in front of the prison cell that once housed a hero of humanity, the late Nelson Mandela.

It was in that ‘hell hole,’ a term used by the inmates that he spent 20 out of  27 years of imprisonment.

It was a moving experience for me.

As I walked around the prison at Robben Island and moved from one cell to cell, I could hear cries of pain and anguish from the past.

I could feel the brokenness of a man who sacrificed the best years of his life to fight for freedom of his people.

Mr Mandela went through all kinds of humiliation, tortures, and inhuman treatments. He went through them almost on a daily basis but he kept the dream in his heart alive.

I saw the cell where he slept.

There was barely enough room for him to lie flat on his sleeping mat and to move around. He had only a thin blanket and a bucket that served as a toilet bowl in the miserable cell.

I looked at the menu which listed the meals that were offered to him.

There were hardly enough food to meet his daily nutritional needs. Worst, he was starved from time to time as a form of punishment.

I had the chance to visit the quarry mine where he had to toil under the hot sun for about nine hours every day.

There were no proper tools and shelter, except for a small cave which also doubled up as a toilet.

Many prisoners like him  would live perpetually with bruises and blisters.

Some of them eventually developed medical problems, especially sicknesses related to the eyes or lungs.

I was told that initially he was only allowed to received two letters per year, both of which had to be censored by a prison guard.

Besides that, he could only receive two visitors and those were his main forms of contact with the outside world.

Later, I found out that while he was in prison, he received a letter to inform him that his mother had passed away.

Subsequently, he had another letter to let him know that Thembekike, his eldest son was killed in a car accident.

I could imagine the sorrow that he had to go through, sorrow that was deepened as he had to struggle with it all by himself.

He was literally living through hell while in prison.

What impressed me most was the fact that after becoming the President of South Africa in 1994, he chose to forgive his enemies.

In his words, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”


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