(this morning's Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2... their theme was "Coming back to life!" They are always tricky!)
I always found it the strangest feeling. When I was a University Chaplain I used to take teams to Cape Town. For years I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island and District 6. Now you see… right there… when I say privilege in the same sentence as Robben island and District 6, I get that strange feeling.
We don’t visit Robben Island or the District 6 museum because of the joyful life they brought. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 14 years in the tiniest cell, which one year we actually got inside instead of looking through the bars. We visit the Lime Quarry where they made the prisoners break up the limestone with the tiniest of hammers in the most tedious torturous work. Robben Island is the reminder of an injustice and harsh regime.
District 6 too. In the early 60 this was the creative, quarter of Cape Town where races and colours and artists mingled in vibrant community. Then apartheid decided to divide up the colours. The authorities came down hard and literally bull dozed the life out of District 6. There is a still a green gash in the city where if you drive up the over grown roads you see the steps of houses flattened where people once lived. District 6 is another symbol of inhumanity. As someone has written in a piece of fabric art in the museum
Living was cheap
Living’s expensive and
Life is cheap…"
So, do you see why I have this strange feeling using the word privilege when walking round Robben Island and District 6. Why is it a privilege? Why does it feel special? Why do I feel almost blessed?It took me a few years of these visits to realise that the uneasy joy I felt on every visit was ok. I wasn’t feeling blessed about what happened back then. I was actually elated at the redemption that I was experiencing in these places right now.
The prisoners are not only free but they are the guides who walk and talk you round Robben Island. They have come back to life. Some people are actually moving back into District 6. The injustice has been put right. District 6 is coming back to life.
On Easter week particularly, I remember Robben Island and District Six as Resurrection spaces…