The famous Robben Island, whose prison was once home to former South African president Nelson Mandela as well as many other black political freedom fighters, is now a World Heritage Site and provides stunning views across the bay with Table Mountain as its backdrop. A trip to the island is an unforgettable experience and offers a glimpse into the life and times of the apartheid era.
Daily tours to the island include the ferry trip there and back, an island tour and a tour of the prison with a fomer political prisoner as your guide. Allow three and a half hours for the trip (this includes the 1/2 hour ferry trip each way) and book in advance. Ferries leave at regular intervals throughout the day from the Clock Tower precinct at the V&A Waterfront
History of Robben Island
Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th century and the 20th century as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups, and a military base. Its buildings, and in particular those of the late 20th century maximum security prison for political prisoners, testify to the way in which democracy and freedom triumphed over oppression and racism.
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 the 1960s.
The symbolic value of Robben Island lies in its somber history, as a prison and a hospital for unfortunates who were sequestered as being socially undesirable. This came to an end in the 1990s when the inhuman Apartheid regime was rejected by the South African people and the political prisoners who had been incarcerated on the Island received their freedom after many years.
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