Remarks by Mr. Kathrada, President Clinton and President Mandela

Office of the Press Secretary
(Capetown, South Africa)

For Immediate ReleaseMarch 27, 1998


MR. KATHRADA: Mr. President, your visit here highlights once again theuniversal symbolism of Robben Island. You are heading an increasing listof distinguished people from your country and from all over the world. IfI may just mention some of the names from your country who have visited us--honored us with their visits: of course, the First Lady, about this timelast year, and your very, very beautiful and talented daughter, Chelsea,who I will never forget, because she had read the autobiography sointelligently. And she remembered so much of it, and asked so manyintelligent questions, I can never forget her.

Yesterday, Mr. President, you addressed the Parliament of theDemocratic South Africa, and today you have come to see what preceded April'94, when democracy came into our country. Just a very brief background--a very brief background. The type of discrimination, the callousness ofapartheid --apartheid applied in gradation. The first and best off werethe whites. The second on the ladder were coloreds and Indians likemyself. And at the bottom of the ladder were Africans, like the President.

When we arrived here in June of 1964, it was bitterly cold, raining,windy. And when we had to change into prison clothes, the President, Mr.Mbeki, Mr. Sisulu, who are all my seniors in age, and then were seven ofus, they were all given short trousers to wear, according to the law. Theywere given no socks. I was given long trousers; I was given socks. Therationale behind the short trousers is that in South Africa in those years,and unfortunately it still persist to some extent, the rationale is allAfricans, regardless of age, are boys or girls. And boys wear shorttrousers, so the President and others with him had to wear short trousers.

The same type of discrimination in the food. Whereas I would get twospoons of sugar, they would get one spoon of sugar. They would not getbread. I would get bread.

So from the start it was a struggle against apartheid, and "struggle"meant hunger strikes and so forth. The first victory was after a few yearswhen we managed to equalize the clothing; and later, after many years, weequalized the food.

We were sentenced to hard labor. We had to work with pick and shovelsfor eight hours a day, work we had never done before. So the first month,it was bleeding hands and blisters, but that was the challenge, becausethat is what the other side had identified to crush our spirits. And itwas a challenge that we dare not lose, and we did not lose. There was the brutality of the warden. I just want to cite oneexample of the mentality of the people who are supposed to look after us.We, of course, on this side of the prison were isolated from the politicalprisoners, completely isolated.

Now, the other prisoners on the other side, that is, the politicalprisoners, were working at the stone quarry and there was an altercationbetween a prisoner, Mr. Malumbo (phonetic), and a warden. They then askedthe prisoner to dig a hole, and buried him up to here. It was a swelteringday, and when the prisoner complained of thirst, they urinated on him.That was the type of mentality of these people.

You have, no doubt, come across the President's autobiography, "TheLong Walk to Freedom", so I should just mention this wall. Where this wallis used to be the President's garden. And after the manuscript waswritten, in its completed form was given over to experts who transcribed itinto small handwriting and smuggled it out of the country, we buried themanuscript here, the original.

And when they started building this wall through our garden, thatmanuscript was discovered and we were then punished, three of us. ThePresident has brought me into a lot of trouble, even in jail--(laughter)--so we were punished and we were deprived of our studies forfour years at that time.

PRESIDENT MANDELA: I must say that they were imprudent, because themethod was, I would write and when I finished a chapter, I gave it to him.(Inaudible.) So then they woule make corrections, and then I would rewritethe chapter. That's how we came into trouble, becuase (inaudible) wasidentified in that manuscript.

MR. KATHRADA: So 75 percent of more of what you read today in "TheLong Walk of Freedom" was written here in prison by the President.

Robben Island was a test. In addition to the philosopy of ourliberation organizations, we were taught that we were fighting against asystem, not against a people. On Robben Island, on the one hand we had thecallousness,the burtality, the sadism. All the authorities were hell-bentcracking our morale and our spirits. On the other hand, Robben Islandsymbolized a triumph --a triumph of the human spirit over evil, a triumphof good over oppression, in short a triumph of the new South Africa overthe old.

The oppressors failed in their mission to induce a collective amnesiaamong the people of this country and the world, becuase we were told in somany words, in five years? time nobody will remember the name Mandela. Andthey did everythingpossible to induce that collective amnesia. They failed.They failed in their endeavors to crush the spirits of the prisoners. Theyfailed to deprive the people of their dignity and their humanity and oftheir civilized values. They failed in every respect.

Mr. President, everything I have said here is symbolized in oneperson, and that is our president. It was his leadership, his courage, hiswisdom, his foresight that guided us through the 18 years that we spenthere and the rest of our sentences, which we spent in other prisons. So weowe that transformation that we talk of --the seeds were here.

And the other side, we called them the enemy at the time, set our tocrish our spirits. And Robben Island was tailor-made to induce a spirit ofhatred, a spriit of revenge, retribution. But thanks to the leadership ofour Presidnt, thatnks to the philosophy of the liberation movement, we didnot fall into those emotions of hatred.

So the seeds of the negitiation process were here at Robben Island,because we realized, and we have maintained all the time, that there is nosuch thing as driving 5 million white people to sea. They are SouthAfrican citizens. They may be on the opposite side. When freedom comes,we have to work together to build a new country. And again, we have tothank our President for that.

Robben Island is unique, I think, in the world. I think it is oneplace where from prison --almost literally from prison to Parlaiment, toPresident.

Mr. President, we are confident that when you leave Robben Island, youwill leave as a freind of Robben Island, to carry the message of thetriumph of Robben Island to your people and to people everywhere. And wehave conficence that we can count on you in the future for your continuedmoral support. And when we develop Robben Island, as we are planning todo, as a universal symbol, we hope we can count on you also for yourmaterial support.

I thank you very much, and welcome again to Robben Island.(Applause.)

MR. KATHRADA: Ladies and gentlement of the media, this is not a pressconference. You've had your share in Cape Twn, and we don't believe indouble features. (Laughter.) But what we want to do now is our President isgoing to hand over to President Clinton a quarry rock, with his littlefinger, authenticated by our President that this is a genuine quarry rockfrom the quarry where he worked for 13 years.

PRESIDENT MANDELA: It's a great honor and a pleasure because, as wehave said on many occasions, our victory here is victory in part becauseyou helped us tremendously. Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. KATHRADA: May I just say that this is not a press conference. Anyquestion must be confined to Robben Island and Robben Island only, please.

Q We're just interested in your experience. We'd like to hearfirsthand from you about your experiences in this cell.

PRESIDENT MANDELA: Well, there were pleasant --(laughter) --andunpleasant experiences, and it depends how you look at the situation. Asyou know, right down the centuries, and in many arts of the world, ther aremen and women who are able to turn disaster --what would crush many people--to turn that disaster into victory. And that is what these ment herelike Mr. Kathrada and others did.

And so whe I come here, I call back into memory that great saga inwhich the authorities, who were pitiless, insensitive, and cruel,nevertheless failed in their evil intentions. They were responsible forthat.

Q President Mandela, can we just ask you, is there --you've beenback to the island many times --

PRESIDENT MANDELA: Let's come closer, pelase.

Q You've been back to the islands many times. Can you tell us whatthe special significance is of this particular visit with the AmericanPresident.

PRESIDENT MANDELA: There is no doubt that, as I said at the pressconference, that the visit by President Clinton is a high-water mark inrelation to all the visits that we've held. And coming to Robben Island issomething more important, with that significant achievement of coming toSouth Africa. And we appreciate that very much.

Q President Clinton, what are you feeling?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, my first thought was to thatnk God that theperson who occupied this cell was able to live all those years in that waywithout having his heart turn to stone and without giving up on his dreamsfor South Africa.

The other thing that I would say is that I think this is a good objectlesson in life for all young people. You know, 99.9999 percent of thepeople will never have a challenge in life like the one Mr. Mandela faceswhen he spent all thes years in prison. But everyone has difficulties,everyone faces unfairness, and everyone faces cruelty. And the one thingthat is beyond the control of anyone else is how you react to it, whathappens to your own spirit, what happens to your own heart, what happens toyour own outlook on life.

And he is the world's foremost living example of that, and every youngchild I wish could think about his or her life that way, and ther would bvea lot more happiness in the world and a lot more generosity, because thanno one would feel compelled to react in a certain way because then no onewould feel compelled to react in a certain way because of what others saidor others did. It's a very improtant thing about living.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

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