Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town, is a boat ride across the Bay from the V&A Waterfront, and is famous for its history as a place of exile, banishment, isolation and imprisonment.
From 1960, the island became known worldwide as the brutal gaol for political prisoners who opposed the apartheid regime in South Africa, many of whom are today prominent members of the present African National Congress government, including Nelson Mandela, who was detained on Robben Island from 1964 until 1982, and Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress.
With the demise of apartheid, the last prisoners were released from the island in 1991.
In 1997, the Robben Island Museum opened to the public, and in 1999, the island was declared a World Heritage Site.
The undisputed ‘highlight’ of the tour to Robben Island is a visit to the former maximum security prison, including the small cell where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years.
Your guide around the prison camp is likely to be one of the many former political prisoners who were imprisoned on the island and subjected to the terrible conditions.
Also included is a 45 minute bus tour around the island, which includes a visit to the limestone quarry where prisoners laboured daily, the prison house of Robert Sobukwe, the African penguin colony, and a viewpoint looking across the Bay to Cape Town and Table Mountain.
Especially in the busy holiday periods, advance bookings are advised, and this can be done via the Robben Island website, or at the Booking Office at the V&A Waterfront. Visitors to Robben Island, however, can currently expect delays as the island’s 300-seater speedboat, Sikhululekile, is out of action until a spare part arrives from Germany. Meantime the replacement ferry, the Sea Princess has hit a rock and damaged a propeller. For the time being the organisation is using the Susan Kruger and Dias, the island’s older vessels, to ferry the tourists to and from the island. The Sikhululekile is expected to be up and running by today (February 2) and the Sea Princess in a week.