Long Walk- Part 9- The Government and the Prison are Parallels

Part 9 of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom was very interesting to read. Some parts were surprising while other parts extremely frustrated me.  Although I thought the part as a whole was absorbing and fascinating to read, a specific part stood out to me.

Part Nine’s title is Robben Island: Beginning To Hope.  When I read this, I formed a hypothesis about what this part was going to be about.  Although I was correct with some things, I was terribly wrong with others.

Throughout Nelson Mandela’s time at Robben Island, he was belittled, talked down to and was treated like an animal by the prison’s authorities.  However, because Mandela is strong-willed and determined to achieve equal rights in every aspect of life, he strove to make his and the inmate’s prison time the best it could be.

It took years upon years to get what they wanted but eventually their boycotts, strikes, and protests paid off and they were given what they most wanted.

“The graph of improvement in prison was never steady.  Progress was halting, and typically accompanied by setbacks.  An advancement might take years to win, and then be rescinded in a day.  We would push the rock up the hill, only to have it tumble down again.  But conditions did improve.  We had won a host of small battles that added up to a change in the atmosphere of the island” (Mandela 451).

This quote portrays that although the prisoner’s goals to improve the prison’s conditions took many years, they were eventually achieved.  “The inmates seemed to be running the prison, not the authorities” (Mandela, 451).

Nelson Mandela and the other prisoner’s befriended some of the warders that gave them respect.  “At the quarry, our talk was rarely interrupted.  If the commanding officer was coming, the warders on duty would blow a whistle to warn us to pick up our tools.  We had neutralized the worst warders and befriended the more reasonable ones” (Mandela 451).

The conditions obviously improved for the prisoners for some time.  However, as time progressed, the prison regulated the system, firing and hiring new warders. The conditions significantly worsened. There were no more friendly conversations with the warders, privileges to talk while working, or extra food given out.

After three years the term for Colonel Van Aarde, the former commanding officer was over.  Colonel Piet Badenhorst was the new C.O. of Robben Island in 1970 and the atmosphere completely changed.  “This was an ominous development.  Badenhorst was reputed to be one of the most brutal and authoritarian officers in the entire prison service” (Mandela, 458).

Due to the arrival of Badenhorst, “our old warders were transferred off the island and replaced by Badenhorst’s handpicked guards” (Mandela 458).

“Within days of Badenhorst’s appointment, our cells were raided and searched; books and papers were confiscated; meals were suspended without warning; and men were jostled on the way to the quarry” (Mandela 458).

This section specifically stood out to me because it reminded me of the outside world for Nelson Mandela at that time.  While reading how the conditions got better and then got terrible once again, it reminded me of the government and how they treated freedom fighters.

Throughout Mandela’s life he worked for freedom and when the government realized he was trying to achieve equality for blacks, they immediately sentenced him to prison.  The reason the government did this was because they were afraid of an overthrow and a change to the overall “system”.  Therefore, instead of allowing Mandela to have freedom of speech, they threw him in jail and attempted to make him stop standing up for what he believed in.  However, while Mandela was in jail he achieved many goals for equality within the prison.

This section of part 9 was interesting to me because the prison reminded me of the government.  The prison was trying to stop all friendliness and freedom so that the prisoner’s wouldn’t, and couldn’t fight for equality.  Similarly, the government did the same thing to Nelson Mandela and the other freedom fighters.

This section does relate to South Africa today because if it wasn’t for the experiences that Nelson Mandela experienced while in jail, he wouldn’t be the same person he is today.  South Africa has transformed from a white superiority to equality for all people.  Without Mandela, South Africa may have still been the racist place it once was.


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