Mandela's cell gets a new lock
Brumbies lock Sam Carter in Nelson Mandela's old cell. Photo: Chris Dutton
Sam Carter can barely fit in the room, let alone imagine how Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in a tiny cell on Robben Island.
The towering lock had to duck just to get into some of the rooms as the ACT Brumbies took a break from their South African rugby mission to get a hit of culture on Wednesday.
Instead of focusing on their clash with the Cape Town Stormers, Carter and a group of players and staff went to Robben Island on their training-free day.
Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on the island just off the coast of Cape Town.
It is almost impossible to grasp how arduous it would have been until you see how small his cell was, with a mat for a bed and no room to move.
For 200-centimetre Carter, it was hard enough just fitting through the doorways. When he stretches his arms out, he can almost reach across the entire cell.
''The cells and the prison were kind of what I expected,'' Carter said.
''But the stories about the living conditions and what the prisoners did to get in there were a lot different.
''If you spend all your time focusing on rugby you'd go mad, so this is the perfect way to break the trip up.''
Some players used their day off to climb Table Mountain while others relaxed at the team hotel.
But visiting Robben Island is one of the most popular choices for tourists in Cape Town.
It became a place for the South African apartheid regime to send its political prisoners, including Mandela.
When Mandela was released, he became the president of South Africa and used rugby to break down the apartheid barriers between black and white communities.
Despite touring with the Brumbies and Wallabies since the late 1990s, backs coach Stephen Larkham had never been to Robben Island until he joined the players this week.
Irish-born prop Ruaidhri Murphy didn't expect to find any links to his heritage at the former prison island. But the Irish arrived to help leprosy sufferers in the late 1800s.
''When you come to places like this and there's a genuine option to do something touristy with history and culture behind it on your day off, it's a perfect way to add to the tour,'' Murphy said.