Christo Theart took the wind out of my sails when he claimed to have actually been born on the island - so I had to confess finally that in fact I moved there when I was a few months old; read his story below ...
My father, Christiaan Theart, and my mother, Judith Susanna (Sannie) lived on Robben Island from 1952 to 1955. He was a prison warden. My mother remembers our next door neighbours, the van Zyl’s. Mr van Zyl used to work for PWD, the Public Works Department, fondly known as “ Piet se Wa en Donkie “ in Afrikaans.
I was born on the island, on 24 June 1952, in our little house, with the assistance of the nurse of the South African Navy, who was a full time resident on the island at the time. The next year, with the birth of my younger brother, Andre, in 1953, she stayed with family in Cape Town until his birth in the Booth Hospital.
I was baptised in the Anglican Church on the island, where the NG Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) also had services. The dominee (reverend) came only on special occasions from Cape Town.
Steven, who spent most of his time carrying me around, and playing horsey with me. This is about the only thing I could remember from the island, riding on Stevens back, with him on all fours.
There was obviously very little to do, and mother remembers that on a Sunday, we used to walk around the island, my elder brother, Deon, on his little bicycle, and me in the pram.
My father started a vegetable garden at the prison where the prisoners worked during the day. There was no fresh water on the island, and my mother remembers that the water was very salty and one had to add chemicals to the water, in order to make it drinkable.
My mother remembers an incident when my father arranged for the collection of all littered bottles, by the prisoners. These were sold and from the proceeds, and a present was bought for every child on the island that year during a Christmas function.
Going to Cape Town for shopping over the weekend could be tricky. Once my mother had to stay overnight in Cape Town as the weather turned foul and it became impossible to use the boat.
In Spring the island would be covered with arum lilies, or “vark lelies” (pig lillies) as we call them in Afrikaans. An oil painting of a field of arum lilies on the island with Table Mountain as a backdrop, painted by J.F.Heydenrych in 1953, is in my possession.
During the time that we lived on the island, Mrs Elize Botha, the wife of the later infamous President P W Botha, visited us. The ladies organized a flower arrangement competition for the occasion, for which my mother won a bowl as a prize, which is still in her possession. During the boat trip to Robben Island, the sea was quite rough and in her speech, Mrs Botha said that she was so sick she saw all her sins go by.
Later in life, I met Michael Klerck, who had married a good friend of my wife. It transpired during our talks that we have one thing in common: Robben Island, he had also been a resident for some years with his family. For this reason I asked him to post these memories on his site.
The other person with whom I share this is Nelson Mandela. I met Mr Mandela at a breakfast function in 1994 just before the first democratic elections in East London during an ANC election campaign. At that time I served on the East London Branch Committee of the ANC, and my wife, Celia & I were also on the ANC Election Committee for the same region. We arrived late and were greeted by Mr Mandela, who stood up from his breakfast table to meet us in the isle: yes, the humble Mr Mandela himself. He came across as an imposing man, as he is quite tall, with a personality that leaves one in awe. I told him of my connection with Robben Island and he immediately began telling us about the prison warders on the island during his stay there: that some treated him most disrespectfully, whilst others were extremely kind and helpful towards him ...
I will treasure that moment forever.
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