Nelson Mandela's home for many years
Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa)
Member Name: catsholiday
Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa)
Date: 20/03/10, updated on 22/08/11 (106 review reads)
Advantages: Visit is a must as a matter of historic interest and respect
Disadvantages: Quite shocking when you see what happened
Robben Island which is just a short boat ride from the mainland in Cape Town is most famous for being the place where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held captive for many years during the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Today it is no longer a prison but has been turned into a museum and guided tours can be taken of the island to view the various historical sites. The island is an official World Heritage site today.
If you would like to take a trip or just want to read more about the place than I can tell you then the website is www.robben-island.org.za. We tried to book at the ticket office down at the V&A waterfront but their internet was down so we ended up booking online. The tickets were 200 Rand per person (about 11 Rand to the £1 when we were there) . We just printed them off on the hotel printer and went along to the Nelson Mandela Gateway building, just by the Clock tower in the V&A waterfront at the appropriate time in the morning. The ticket office is open from 7.30am to 9.00pm daily.
When you get to the Nelson Mandela Gateway building you are invited into a display area which shows many of the people who were involved in the fight against Apartheid. There are so very personal black and white photos in the display which gives you an idea of how much suffering there was during this time.. This building has a 120 seat auditorium as well as interactive and multimedia exhibitions together with conference facilities.
You are taken through airport-like security machines before boarding the ferry across to the island. It is quite a small ferry with seating up stairs or downstairs out of the wind and sun. The trip across takes about 45 minutes and during the trip you get amazing views of Table Mountain and Cape Town and if you are lucky you might see dolphins or seals. We were lucky enough to see a couple of seals but no dolphins unfortunately.
Once you arrive on the island you are welcomed by a loud speaker telling you to make you way to the buses. You are loaded on the buses until each is full and then the guided tour begins. We had an entertaining guide with a lively sense of humour and a very sound knowledge of the island's history and some of the people who had been imprisoned there.
During the visit we stopped at the house where Robert Sobukwe was kept in isolation for most of his life. In fact he never enjoyed freedom as he died a prisoner. We saw the historic lighthouse, the guest house where famous dignitaries stay, most recently the FIFA delegates to discuss the World Cup but Nelson Mandela also stayed here after he was a free man and President of South Africa. The quarry where the political prisoners spent their days digging out limestone was another stop on the tour. During their day of hard labour they had a lunch break which they spent educating each other and many got to the level of university education by the end of their prison sentences. In this quarry is a pyramid of large pebbles or stones which is a sort of monument built by former prisoners in an impromptu way. According to our guide when Nelson Mandela and a number of former detainees returned to the quarry after they were free Nelson Mandela picked up a stone and placed it on the ground and others followed suit. The result was a small pyramid of stones. They don't let the tourists get out at this point as some ignorant people decided it was a nice souvenir to take a stone off this pile and so that the pile was not gradually eroded they have stopped allowing people off the bus at the quarry.
The next stop was the actual prison where we were escorted and guided by a former political prisoner who told us about his time in the prison and then escorted us through the the bock where we were able to see the actual cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life imprisoned. It was exactly the same as all the other cells except that they had put back in this cell the prisoner's kit - bowl. toilet etc.
It was a very interesting tour which involved 45 minutes on the boat each way and about 45 minutes on the bus and then the rest of the time going around the cell blocks with the former detainee. You are not left to wander around by yourself until the end when you walk back from the prison to the harbour to meet the boat and you have about 15 minutes for this walk, to visit the toilets and the souvenir shop.
I thought it must be very strange for the guide who was an ex-political prisoner on Robben Island to be showing people round it as a tourist attraction; I bet he never thought that would happen. It was a very interesting tour and I felt it was important to see this in respect for what these people suffered to bring an end to the awful racist regime of Apartheid. It is lovely to see that South Africa is now a truly multi racial society, not everyone is equally wealthy nor do they live in the same sort of houses but it is early days yet and in a couple of generations who knows what it will be like.
This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name
Summary: A must visit in order to understand the history of South Africa more fully