Yesterday was very special to me. Although I have lived in South Africa and visited Cape Town, I had never been to Robben Island. I finally got a chance to visit it with Duze Nomshikashika.
Since we were allowed to go without our choir outfit, I went with my HIV stigma fighter t-shirt. The former prison guard of Robben Island’s most famous prisoner, legend Nelson Mandela, was our personal guide. His name is Christo Brand.
When Christo told us the story about Mandela and other freedom fighters like Sobukwe and many more, I felt sad. But on the other hand thankful for the change I see in South Africa. He was a guide and eventually became a friend of Mandela. So he took us to Mandela’s former prison cell and explained how things were done back then. How people of colour were treated. Hearing him about Mandela’s life on Robben Island and how they became true friends despite the differences, I was proud to meet him.
Then Christo looked at me and he smiled. He took my hands and said ”I like your t-shirt, it is very beautiful”. I thanked him for that and then Christo shared his story of how Mandela fought HIV and AIDS. He said “Mandela’s son died of AIDS and while he died Mandela was sitting next to his bed, holding his hands”. After that, Mandela started a HIV foundation with the help of Bill Clinton.
I approached Christo with some more questions regarding HIV and AIDS during that time, the 1980’s. He said that he was taking care of the first inmate with HIV where no one wanted to help him. Christo went to search for information and after he talked with some medical people, he knew he was not going to be infected by touching the inmate. We talked more about stigma and how people, more than 20 years later, still lack information, especially in the townships. He said that even today in some places there is still no access to medication.
We ended our visit by having lunch with Christo and thanking him for this special tour. He gave everyone a hand, but when it was my turn, he refused to take my hand. He said ”You, I don’t want to give a hand. I want your hug! Hug me please… 30 years ago I would have gone to prison myself for hugging a coloured person but now that is not valid anymore”. I hugged him proudly, and thanked him to revived my spirit of fighting stigma. I promised to even speak louder for the ones that can’t be heard, and not to give up, no matter the hardship I have faced to speak out, even during this trip.
Thank you, Christo, for being such a humble person, for seeing the goodness in people beyond the colour of skin, and for being a friend of Mandela during his times of hardship. Both of you are a great inspiration for the new generation. God bless you!