Mandela's Prison Island is also a world Heritage Site
Robben Island Travel Blog› entry 13 of 18 › view all entries
Robben Island, the place where Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It was used as a maximum security prison during South Africa's Apartheid era, and has since become a symbol of the strength and endurance of its political prisoners, and the ability of the human spirit to come out triumphant from oppression, deprivation and denial of human rights: discrimination at the highest level - apartheid. Going to Cape Town, this was one of the places I so desperately wanted to visit mainly because of Nelson Mandela. I read ahead about much of it’s history to try and find out why it was the chosen exile place of the world’s most popular prisoner. Did you know that this now famous island was always a place of Exile? For generation after generation going back four hundred years, Robben Island was designated a place of exile, beginning as a place where people with incurable diseases particularly lepers were taken to die, away from the rest of healthy society.
Situated in the sea a little over twelve miles off the shore and in the middle of Table bay, Robben island is set apart from mainland Cape town separated by a narrow channel of seawater. This island is situated quite remotely and was considered inaccessible for many centuries. In 1961 Robben Island was converted into a maximum security prison under foreign rule. The one prisoner that made this island as popular as any death zone gets, is South Africa’s first democratic president Nelson Mandela the founding father of Pan Africanism. This was during the period of Apartheid in South Africa, many other political prisoners white and black alike were imprisoned on this island.
Despite it’s gloomy past, the island has been restored and is now known for it’s ecological habitat. In 1999 UNESCO recognized Robben Island as a World Heritage Site. This was after all the work that had been put in to it in the earlier years such as including it in South Africa’s natural heritage program and the northern part of the island was declared a bird sanctuary. Six years after inclusion in the natural heritage program a National Museum was opened introducing educational programs for schools and tourists. There is continued research taking place on this island and it is one of Cape Town’s most visited tourist attractions. For many South Africans, Robben Island is a place that reminds them of their struggle for freedom.
To go to the mainland one has to use a ferry : Don and I took the ferry from the V&A Waterfront jetty (daily ferries run from here) to the island but we did not tour the prison as earlier planned. I do not recall but something to do with timing. The entire trip I believe lasts about 4 hours if you take a guided tour given my actual former prisoner on the island. I so wanted to see the cell in which Mandela was kept - this will be a trip for another time. Do take a lok at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I have visited, I have a list with all the ones I have been to and update the list as I visit an additional site.