Robben Island – From Political Prison to Tourist Attraction

Judi-at-the-Robben-Island-sign-at-the-harbour.jpgRobben Island is a small flat island about 2 miles in length and about 1 mile wide that lies almost 5 miles off the mainland. Translated into English it means Sea Island. The island’s use as a prison was started by the Dutch in the 17th century, but it is best known as the home of Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years in captivity, as a political prisoner. The prison is no longer in use, but the island still has a small population of people who work as tour guides for the many daily visitors.

We pre-purchased our tickets from the hotel’s concierge, but had to pick them up from the ticket office, so they suggested arriving at 10:30 for our 11:00 departure. Off course we arrived well before time as it was a short walk, but after a lengthy wait in the queue we finally we finally boarded the boat about 10:40, and almost immediately the lines were gone and we departed. We found out later that their large catamaran is out of commission so they are using multiple smaller replacement vessels, and a 2nd vessel would have departed at 11:00.

The local harbour is an amazing collection of new and old, with this older fishing vessel tied up alongside multi-million waterfront homes.

An-old-fishing-vessel-amongst-multi-million-dollar-homes.jpgAs we departed the harbour heading for Robben Island we got an excellent view of Cape Town Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup Finals

Cape-Towns-Stadium-for-2010-World-Cup-Finals.jpgView of Cape Town with Table Mountain, Signal Hill & Lions Head

Cape-Town-Table-Mountain-from-Robben-Island-ferry.jpgThe voyage across we were led to believe was about 1/2 hr, but with the smaller vessel and fairly rough conditions it actually took over an hour. Even though the boat was moving a fair bit in the swells, Judi survived the trip over without any issue.

Robben-Island-lighthouse-and-residences-for-the-workers.jpgApproaching the bottom of Robben Island with the Lighthouse and residential homes.

On departing the boat we boarded a bus with driver and guide and were taken for a short drive around the island. The guide lives on the island with his family, but with no school his children must take a boat across to the mainland every day. Although only a small population they have a post office and any letter posted on the island actually receives a Robben Island postmark.

Robben-Island-shore-with-surf-pounding-ashore.jpgWe stopped at the north end of the island facing Cape Town. The swells were landing fairly heavily on the shoreline, as seen in the above photograph

Alcatraz to shore is a challenging swim, but if prisoners on Robben Island escaped the prison the entry into the water and swim to the mainland were basically impossible.

Rough-shoreline-of-Robben-Island.jpgAfter the stop we returned to the prison where we were met by a former inmate, who conducted our tour. Unfortunately his accent and very raspy voice made it extremely challenging to understand the information he was providing.

Prison-front-and-main-entrance-used-by-prisoners-on-arrival.jpgThe front of the prison with path that the prisoners took to enter the prison upon their arrival on the island. The prison was split in 6 or 7 areas and prisoners were assigned based on crime committed, length of time in captivity and race. As prisoners progressed to higher categories they received additional privileges, but some never progressed beyond the entry category.

Board-showing-different-rations-for-coloured-and-blacks.jpgDifference in victuals between category B and category C prisoners. Our guide was deemed Bantus, or Black, and never received any bread, which is one of their staple diets.

Our-guide-who-is-an-ex-prisoner.jpgThis was our guide, who is an ex-inmate and political prisoner from Robben Island. All tours of the prison are conducted by ex-prisoners.

Nelson-Mandelas-cell.jpgNelson Mandela’s cell where he spent 18 years of his 27 years in captivity. As a perceived ring leader he was kept in a segregated cell rather than a dormitory.

Andy-in-front-of-a-political-prisoners-cell.jpgAndy standing in front of one of the other cells

Judi-walking-down-individual-cells-passageway.jpgJudi walking down the cell block alleyway

Cell-block-garden.jpgThis is the garden on one of the cell blocks for the other categories.

Kids-dormitory-with-original-mats-for-sleeping-and-laterally-bunk-beds.jpgInitially prisoners lay on mats, but later they received bunks.

Cell-block-exercise-are-and-adjacent-cell-block.jpgCell block and exercise area

Main-exit-gate-which-the-prisoners-used-on-release-to-reach-the-harbour.jpgWhen discharged from the prison, this is the gate they walked through to exit the prison and head down to the harbour for the boat ride to the mainland.

Sea-Princess-docked-on-Robben-Island-fortunately-it-isnt-our-round-the-world-Sea-Princess.jpgWe spotted this vessel called Sea Princess, fortunately it is not the Sea Princess we will be joining next month for the 104 night World Cruise.

Our-hotel-and-rotating-wheel.jpgQuite a contrast to Robben Island and the prison, this is the view you receive of the V&A waterfront as the boat arrives back on the mainland.

This is the end of phase 1 of our Cape Town visit, as tomorrow we head out to the wine region for some wine tasting and in addition, a special treat for Judi. Apologies for the delay in posting, as this is now about 1 week old. We have just completed our safari and while we saw lots of animals, useable internet just wasn’t possible in the bush, so you can expect a flurry of safari posts with lots of wild animals over the next few days.

1 thought on “Robben Island – From Political Prison to Tourist Attraction

  1. Halloo
    Wow lovely photos….its really reminds me of my memories last year on holiday on this beautiful island.I wish i could share some of my few pics with the museum guides that i took.
    Keep up with the lovely work.


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