Robben Island – Walking Through History

by brian on December 19, 2008

So after my time in the township, I had lunch and then headed right over to Robben Island.

Robben Island, the notorious maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held, is now an site dedicated to showing the power of the human spirit.

The ticket for the ferry from the Cape Town waterfront and the Robben Island tour cost 180 rand ($18US)

First we headed over fron Victoria Wharf by high speed boat to Robben Island.

Ferry to Robben Island

 Robben Island   Walking Through History

Once there, we jumped on buses that drove us around Robben Island while the tour guides gave us the history of the island, and in turn the history of South Africa.

Our tour guide is holding a “Pass Book”. All black South Africans had to have one. It listed your race and told where you could and could not be if you were stopped by the police or other authorities. It had to be carried at all times and not having one could mean immediate imprisonment.
 Robben Island   Walking Through History
On Robben Island, authorities tried the “divide and conquer” technique with the prisoners. To sow dissension among the prisoners, Black prisoners had different MEALS than Colored or Mixed race prisoners. Authorities hoped that this would cause resentment and break solidarity within prison walls. But this backfired, as the Colored and Mixed prisoners SHARED their meals with the Blacks, creating an even tighter bond.

 Robben Island   Walking Through History
These gentlemen were taking the the tour like the rest of us and were either incarcerated on Robben Island themselves or had family and friends held there. They were a bright point for the tour, as they provided a living oral history as the tour went along.
 Robben Island   Walking Through History
Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. Kind of mundane looking. I have no idea what I was expecting. It is a prison cell after all. His cell is the only one in the prison still furnished as it was when the prison was active.

All he had was a rug on the floor to sleep on, some blankets, a small table and a bucket to urinate in. For 18 years.

The cell is so small I can’t even get a good shot of the whole thing at once to give you a better perspective.

 Robben Island   Walking Through History

 Robben Island   Walking Through History

“We want Robben Island to reflect the triumph of freedon and human dignity over oppression and humillation.”

 Robben Island   Walking Through History

It all seems a little more real now and not just a news report or an encyclopedia entry. The phrase, “If these walls could talk…” never felt more apparent than on Robben Island.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Jones December 21, 2008 at 10:32 AM

Did they say if they normally get a lot of people touring that were incarcerated there before? That had to be a very interesting experience.


brian December 22, 2008 at 12:22 PM

I didn’t ask but it seemed like that was a normal thing to the tour guide.


Dave and Deb May 12, 2009 at 7:01 PM

We were there last May. Moving experience, our guide really made it more touching since he was an ex-prisoner. He told us that it was like therapy for him. Unbelievable that he lives on the island now. I think that if it were me, I would choose not to live there.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: