In Robben Island through the Eyes Of Gabe Magomola

In Robben Island through the Eyes Of Gabe Magomola


The only musical instrument sound that defied all the rules and regulations imposed by the ruling hegemony was that of Gabe Magomola, who gave us the objective conditions of the daily life in this dread full island horizon.

After attending the moving graduation ceremony Of Caiphus and Letta Semenya At Cape Town University Where, for the first time in the history of this university That a beautiful and gifted African couple received an honorary doctorate degree awarded to both at the same time.


Gabe felt it would be a mortal sin for the couple not to visit The killing grounds of Robben Island that kept our Freedom fighters in bondage for so many seasons in despicable condition that was reminiscent of The Gestapo in Nazi Germany.

Caiphus and Letta took Gabe up for this momentous excursion.

And the five couple that were carefully selected by Semenya To be the soul witness of their graduation, all agreed to visit the island horizon under the guidance of Gabe, who authored a book entitled, from Robben Island to Wall Street.

He too loitered in this dim wood of distress of Robben Island for one score decade with only a trumpet to call his own.

He was willing to give us a four hour orientation, to living condition that the prisoners had to encounter on a daily basis from the hands of ruthless police thugs.

Here in Robben Island a place of sorrow and pain for a cry of millions in our country at large.

The five couples under the leadership of the Semenya Blended like beautiful souls, who were ready to be reincarnated with African Spirits who kept our brave warriors ready to die for the father land.


Gabe took us through many corners and crevices of Robben Island.

And we as participant observers, observed unobtrusively, the inner workings of the eternal flame of human resilience that pierced through all obstacles that our brave warriors encountered.

And kept the rhythm of the inner workings of human survival perfectly, under unbearable human condition imposed by the myopic world, of apartheid, and its yoke of oppression, to innocent people of our land.

As we went from one cell to another some of us were reminded, of the same suffering that took place elsewhere in Africa and the diaspora.

We were reminded of the Africans, who were uprooted from their mother land and many who died and fed the sharks of the deep sea.

While others served as human sacrifice in the lynching alters of Alabama and Mississippi and others died in the shimmering sun in the cotton fields of no return and hope heavens would open for all souls day.

We were all astonished by the similarity of how Europe never regarded Africans as an integral part of humanity in the true sense of the word.

On a personal note l could identify with Gabe contamination termination with tuberculosis here in Robben Island and how they were rendered as waiting to die.

Because I also had a time at the cross with this dreadful disease of tuberculosis. when we slept in the prisons of Gomalima and Gomalutete and Ofitra Prison and Thysville Prison where our beloved Patrice Lumumba was literally killed before he was even flown elsewhere.

Up to now I still have the scars of that brief experience in the Congo, when dawn was young in our struggle for our liberation.

Gabe’s presentation also reminded me of my comrades who lost their lives at Vela Phiri and elsewhere in Africa and remain unheralded Heroes of our struggle.

Gabe, like a soul seeking solace who found a community of learner in us, kept on narrating about the unfolding drama that took place in Robben Island.

The more he spoke of the atrocities that took place, we all wanted to go back home and sharpen our bows and arrows and kill any mother l see As Nina Simon would put it in her famous song entitled Mississippi god-damn.

It is shameful and disgraceful that we children of the rainbow nation, who are the beneficiaries of the people who gave their lives for us, still enter these sacred places without taking off our shoes.

Especially the dungeon of Mangaliso Sobukwe a person known to have served suffered and sacrificed for this nation.

Don Matterra captured the essence of who Sobukwe really is this way, O Bright Star of Africa it was your deep, undying love for us for your land, for your continent, for shackled humanity, that kept you alive On the Island of Damnation Their fear, their law that froze your breath, but could not kill the African Dream.

We also visited the cell where our Nelson Mandela slept in, right next to his mat, where he slept, was a toilet bucket.

This is the very man who taught the nation not to be engulfed in racial hatred that would have directly or vicariously plunged the nation into a state of vengeance unparrelled in this world was treated.

I was particularly moved when we entered his cell.

It took me back to Washington D.C.were I met him after so long

I captured our brief conversation in this manner;

You looked at me once in your eyes and wrinkles on your face,

That have grown deep like the Limpopo river, yet with a smile in your face, You requested me to come back home

And join in building our rainbow nation For the children of tomorrow.

This was a humbling experience for me to Be requested by the father of our rainbow nation to render my services.

The situation also applied to Walter Sisulu

an altruistic person, who taught the nation how to be a moral man in an immoral society of ours.

Don Mattera has this to say about utathu Sisulu!


The man, the family the pain of sacrifice we salute you again Patriarch of liberation,

we greet you Albertina Matriarch of martyrs,

your tears nourish our dreams your courage irons our wills, we salute the family, the sons and daughters when commitment lights the tree of freedom and justice and human love.

When the long visit under the guidance and tutelage of Gabe Mangomola ended, we all felt every South African citizen must make it a point

To come and pay their tribute to the sons and daughters,

who lived and died in order to attain our freedom that we now enjoy.

The words said by the late Eskia Mpahlele on Robben Island must remain pristine fresh when he wrote this poem,

in our minds and reads like so!

What is there that we can do or say

Will sustain them

In those islands

Where the sun was made for janitors?

What is there that we can say or do

Will tear the years

From our hands

Of those who man the island galleys

After this long excursion in Robben Island we closed our eyes and bowed our heads, as Letta Mbuli said a little prayer for the dead and the living, who were once incarcerated in this killing ground of Robben Island. May their soul rest in peace and the words of R.R Dhlomo which appear in one of the clipping in Sobukwe dungeon read like so in our vernacular language!

Apho igazi lenu lithe lathontseka khona, Kolimila intyanty ambo evumba limnandi,Eliya Kithwala ngamaphiko empepho, Zithi zonki izizwe zilirogele.

(wherever your blood has dropped, will blossom a flower of exceeding sweetness, whose scent will be carried on the wings of the air, and all the nations will inhale it).

In conclusion of our journey helped us look introspectively to our visit here in Robben Island it would not be fair to us not to highlight what Sis Nolo can undertake to improve this sacred place of our heritage.

To follow are some of the points that can be implemented quickly stated in no strict order,

Let everybody take off their shoes when entering the dungeon of Mangaliso Sobukwe and the cell where utathu

Nelson Mandela was kept as a prisoner.

Reconstruct the old part of Robben Island in a state that it used to be and constructed it without distorting its brutal form and shape.

The quarries which represented the killing ground of Robben Island must be once again restored to its original form and not be hidden in a pool of water.

The signage of the important sight at Robben Island must be written in all the eleven languages and let people like Gabe Magomola write a story about each place in a user friendly manner.

The restoration and painting of Robben Island must not be intended to sanitize this wicked place as if to hide away the sins of the past.

A fact-simile of Robben Island should be recreated and send to other Museum around the nine provinces so that the school curriculum at High school level can be compelling to all students to know its roots and significance.

So Sis Nolo you can start working on some of the above mentioned suggestions emanating from our visit here in Robben Island thanks to Gabe Magomola and Sis Nana for bringing us to this sacred place of Robben Island. And thanks to Caiphus Semenya and Sis Letta for including us in her guest of honor list at their Graduation. Thanks to Peter Davis and Sis Jeany for their entertaining us.

Many thanks to Joe Shakela and his lovely wife Sis Mankwane for dining us.

And last but not least I thank Vule for her company to this occasion.