Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island.

Cape Town - December 5 marks two important events in South Africa: the birthday of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, the founding president of the PAC, and the anniversary of the death of former president and ANC leader Nelson Mandela.

Both of these leaders also spent many years on Robben Island. It was therefore fitting that to mark Mandela's centenary year, the Robben Island Museum welcomed guests to a night vigil on the Island to pay homage to Sobukwe, Mandela and his "twin" Albertina Sisulu.

More than 135 visitors, including ex-political prisoners, faith-based organisations and members of the public, made the pilgrimage for the opportunity for reflect on the sacrifices of the stalwarts and the many other heroes and heroines who fought apartheid.

A full programme kept the visitors - most of them at least - awake all night, with highlights including a visit to Sobukwe's complex and, of course, Mandela's prison cell but there were many more very special moments that humanised a space created to dehumanise.

There was none of the hushed silences associated with museums, rather there was riel dancing outside Sobukwe's living quarters, contemporary dancing in the exercise yard of Section B, singing, poetry and fantastic storytelling. (Honourable mentions go to former prisoner Mr Bandile Joyi, Reverend Michael Weeder and Luvuyo Ndzuzo, of the Robben Island Museum Education Department, who brought the stories to life). 

As Ndzuzo said Robben Island was the biggest mistake of the apartheid regime. They took some of the best minds of the struggle and put them in one place.

The narrative told on Robben Island is not only one of hardship and imprisonment but also of intelligence, determination, organisation and kindness among the prisoners.

Robben Island Museum spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said: “For many of us the opportunity to reflect on our liberation heroes in this way is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

WATCH: The Bitterfontein Riel Dancers 

Inside Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe's living quarters, where he lived in solitary confinement.

Reverend Michael Weeder, keynote speaker at the night vigil, speaks about the importance of the event.

IOL