Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Robben Island

Robben Island is a small island in Table Bay, about 7 km off the coast of Cape Town. It was here that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years of incarceration (1964-1982). The current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, also spent 10 years here.

While in Cape Town with my parents we visited Robben Island. The ferry ride to get out there took an hour and was chilly, but there were dolphins!

The tours of the prison are given by former inmates. I did not catch the name of our guide, but he was there during the time of Mandela and did personally know him.

 Signs at the dock when arriving at the island.

 Reception and prison court, the censors office, the courtyard where maximum security inmates (including Mandela) were forced to do manual labor (ex: break rocks). 

Upon arrival at the prison, prisoners were assigned a classification level from A-D. 
A had the most privileges: radios, newspapers, 3 letters and 2 visits per month)
D had the least privileges: no radios or newspapers, 2 letters per year, a 1/2 hour visit every 6 months, and they had to do hard labor in the quarry).
Mandela, a high profile political prisoner, was a maximum security inmate and was classified D upon his arrival. 

The maximum security inmates were kept separate from all other inmates.

It was in this courtyard that Mandela hid one copy of his manuscript for Long Walk to Freedom. The guards found it and he lost four years of privileges. A second copy was smuggled out. 

 Mandela's cell. All that was in the cell was a small mat and blanket on the floor, a table, cup, plate and a bucket toilet. He spent 18 years in here. In his final few years he was issued a bed and he had a bookshelf. 

In the other sections they had communal cells with as many as 50 men in one room the size of a 3 car garage. 

 F section was where the common criminals were held, D section was more communal cells.
High level political prisoners were kept in the maximum security B section. 

 View of Table Mountain and Cape Town from Robben Island

After touring the prison there is a bus tour of the island. You get some great views of Table Mountain and Cape Town. 

 The limestone quarry where many of the maximum security prisoners worked, another view of Table Mountain, the section of island with housing for the prison guards, etc. 

Mandela did hard labor at the limestone quarry for a number of years which caused many of his later health ailments. Rock was broken off the wall face manually and then broken down into smaller pieces to be used as road gravel.  

View of the Cape Town soccer stadium on the ferry back. 

Touring Robben Island is a must do, but I would highly recommend seeing if a private tour can be arranged. There were about 70 people in our group and it was just too many.

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