Robben Island needs no introduction with regards to the significance of its place in South Africa’s and indeed the world’s history. As “home” to one of the world’s most famous prisoners, statesmen and leader’s in Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is quite possibly most well known island-prison on the planet.
Not just a prison-island
The island, a World Heritage Site some 9km (5.5mi) offshore from Cape Town, was dubbed “Robben” (the Dutch word for seal) Island by early settlers in reference to the seal population at the time. Over the centuries, the island has housed a prison, hospital, mental institution, leper colony and a military base. The afore mentioned Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years of his incarceration imprisoned on the island.
A tour of the island
The tour of the Robben Island Museum begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront with a multimedia exhibition, a museum shop and restaurant to entertain you whilst you wait for the ferry to depart for the island. Please be sure to be there 30 minutes prior to the departure time, with the gates closing 10 minutes prior to departure.
Ferries depart at 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm and each tour takes approximately 3.5 hours including the boat trip there and back (the ferry trips times vary from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the weather and the vessel). On the island, tours are all guided by former political prisoners of the island, offering the visitor a truly unique insight into the island’s history and personal accounts of prison life. The tour includes a visit to the maximum security prison, with the most poignant stop reserved for Mr. Mandela’s former cell, prepared exactly as it was when he was imprisoned here.
A bus takes you to the lime quarry where Mr. Mandela and his fellow prisoners did hard labour. Additional stopovers include the Kramat (shrine) of Tuan Guru (a Muslim leader), the Lepers’ Graveyard and the house where Robert Sobukwe lived in solitary confinement for nine years.