Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island is the island in Table Bay,7 km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km long north-south, and 1.9 km wide. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level. . Former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Kgalema Motlanthe, who also served as President of South Africa, spent 10 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, as did current President Jacob Zuma.

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th century and the 20th century as a prison, a hospital for lepers, and a military base. What survives from its episodic history are 17th century quarries, the tomb of Hadije Kramat who died in 1755, 19th century ‘village’ administrative buildings including a chapel and parsonage, small lighthouse, the lepers’ church, the only remains of a leper colony, derelict World War II military structures around the harbour and the stark and functional maximum security prison of the Apartheid period began in 1959. The island then became a maximum security prison and between 1961 and 1991 over three thousand men were incarcerated here as political prisoners. The most famous of these was, of course, Nelson Mandela. He describes his time on Robben island in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. June 1990 saw the start of the removal of political prisoners by then-president FW de Klerk, the last leaving the island in May 1991. The last common-law (not political) prisoners, who had always been held separately from political prisoners, left the island in 1996.

In terms of the National Monuments Act of South Africa, the area was declared as a National Monument in 1996. The management authority for the property rests with the Robben Island Museum Council with delegated authority for the day-to-day management and conservation matters residing with the Chief Executive Officer.

To get to Robben Island, we queued for the ferry, a fast catamaran which runs every hour. On the island we had a bus to take us round the island, first a run round the perimeter, then a visit to the former high security prison. Former inmates act as tour guides. It is a depressing place, and I find it incredible that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated here by the old Apartheid regime for 18 years, and that he did not end up by having an undying hatred for then - certainly I would have done in his position. It is always difficult to know how much truth and how much spin (no matter how well intentioned) you are given at places like this. I suspect that South Africa is too close to the events of Apartheid today to produce a balanced view (if indeed there is a balanced view to produce)

The thing to do is to see it for yourself and make up your own mind..

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

We approached Cape Town as dawn was breaking, and tied up in the quite empty commercial harbour - there is no cruise boat one By bus to The Waterfront..
..which is vibrant and affluent part of Cape Town. Full of shops, cafes, artwork and throngs of people, mainly local out to enjoy the sunshine. It is sort of touristy ..
..without being too touristy. Statues of South Africa's 4 Nobel Peace Prize winners are there Albert Lutuli, Nelson Mandela, F W de Klerk, Archbishop Tutu.
Then we queued for the ferry to Robben Island. Cape Town is clearly visible. The quarry is where the inmates had to toil every day. Old admin buildings.
The bus took us around the shoreline with even penguins on offer. Eventually we got to the barbed wire surrounding the high security prison. They really did not want you .
.to get out of here. A former inmate gave the tour, and he shouted all the time: I don't know if this is a result of his experiences there. The boys were glad they could leave.
This locker was a touching reminder of a past owner. The cells are all the same, but this was Mandela's. The guide was tipped on exiting and we returned to modern SA.

Overnight on the ship, then a full day tour to Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town

Silversea Explorer Voyage

Shipboard Life