Mandela revisits notorious South African jail
First lady, comedian Bill Cosby among his guests
March 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:52 p.m. EST (0452 GMT)
From Correspondent Claire Shipman
ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa (CNN) -- Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison at South Africa's most infamous political prison, Robben Island. Thursday, he returned to give a tour to visiting First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, her daughter Chelsea, and entertainer Bill Cosby.
The three were among dozens of guests who attended a fund-raising banquet on the island Thursday evening. While the Clintons and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan attended for free, 40 other couples paid $56,000 to dine at the island. The banquet raised $1.1 million, which will be used to aid destitute former prisoners and establish an island museum.
As Mandela walked through the corridors of Robben Island, he described his life there. He slept in a cramped, bleak cell by night; by day, he labored with pickaxes in prison quarries. He and other prisoners were forced to wear short pants year-round, and were fed porridge sweetened with a small spoonful of sugar, three meals a day, seven days a week.
"This was the place ... where they were going to crush our spirits," said Ahmaed Kathrada, a prisoner-turned-Parliament member. "This is where we worked with pick and shovels for eight hours a day. Not a single one of us had been used to that type of manual labor."
The day was yet another reminder of Mandela's extraordinary transformation from prisoner to president, and in a larger sense, South Africa's transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
Part of Mrs. Clinton's mission here is to bolster that trend. "I'm very hopeful that Americans will understand that we have a lot of interests at stake in seeing a stable, peaceful, democratic, prosperous Africa," she said.
U.S. diplomats especially want to support South Africa's efforts to be a leader and moderator in the region. The situation in Zaire was briefly discussed in a formal courtesy call, and President Mandela asked Mrs. Clinton to update her husband on South Africa's push for negotiations.
And though some would say the United States had a mixed record in supporting the anti-apartheid movement, U.S. diplomats were pleased that Mandela offered praise. "One of the most powerful centers of the anti-apartheid struggle was the United States of America," he said.
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