Join the Jindal School Community!


EMBA Class of 2016 Visits Robben Island

read ( words)

Visiting Robben Island


Physical exhaustion.

Psychological abuse.

Poor living conditions.

Racial discrimination.

Alone, any of these could be enough to break a man. In concert, their destruction of the human spirit is almost guaranteed. For the most famous prisoners at Robben Island (Dutch for “Seal Island”), this was life for more than two decades.

Robben Island, discovered by the Dutch in the 17th century, has been used to house South Africa’s less-desirable inhabitants for hundreds of years. The Dutch used the island as a prison for criminals of various stripes, and later as a leper colony. The island is most famous as the prison where Nelson Mandela and his fellow travelers were held as political prisoners by the apartheid regime in South Africa beginning in the 1960s. The island served as a maximum security prison until 1991, finally shutting its prison doors in 1996, whereupon it soon became a national museum.

Upon ferried arrival at Robben Island, visitors are greeted by a large mural representing the imprisonment of Nelson Mandel and other affiliated political prisoners, with a large message reading, “FREEDOM CANNOT BE MANACLED!” After I hear the stories of the imprisoned and meet with a former prisoner, it is clear to me that the statement holds true. Upon their release from prison, no one would have been surprised had the former prisoners taken advantage of being part of the majority racial demographic in South Africa and begun retaliatory apartheid against their former oppressors. Instead, they worked hard to unite the country across all racial and ethnic lines.

It was told to us that, ironically, their imprisonment played a large role in helping former prisoners to forgive their captors. While imprisoned, the educated prisoners took it upon themselves to educate the uneducated on the island — including their warders (guards) — using the ideal of “each one teach one.” This concept meant that everyone on the island had something to contribute and teach others. On Monday, one will teach, and on Tuesday become a student to another.

Robben Island was used by the South African government in the apartheid era for 30 years as a testament to the brutality and indecency of the human species. Out of that darkness arose men who would show the thoughtfulness and decency that exists in the species.

Read the fifth post about the EMBA Class of 2016 international study tour to South Africa: EMBA Class of 2016 Tour and South Africa’s Department of Energy.

Brett Snyder

Brett Snyder is currently heading up a change management team as assistant vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase. He is responsible for overseeing nearly 200 user-developed Visual Basic Applications (VBA) tools, including maintenance and development. Brett received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently pursuing his executive MBA at the University of Texas at Dallas. Read more articles

Subscribe to JSOM Perspectives, one stop shop for everything you want to know about JSOM

Subscribe to receive our freshest post in your inbox every two weeks!