Robben Island, South Africa - The Traveller


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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Robben Island, South Africa

Robben Island
Robben Island – `Seal Island’

Robben Island is located in South Africa’s Table Bay which is around 4.5 miles from Cape Town’s beaches. The name is Dutch for `seal island’ and Robben Island is roughly oval in shape measuring around 3.3 km long north-south, 1.9 km wide having an area of 5.07 km.

The island is composed of Precambrian metamorphic rocks which belong to the Malmesbury group. It is flat and a few metres above sea level due to the outcome of ancient erosions. This island is well known for the fact that Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was kept a prisoner on Robben Island for 18 years out of the 27 years he served in prison before the fall of apartheid.

Besides him, Kgalema Motlanthe also served as President of South Africa spending 10 years on the island as a political prisoner along with Jacob Zuma present President of South Africa. When the Dutch came to settle in Cape in the 17th century, they used the island as a prison, which continued till the year 1991.

Used as Prison/Hospital/Military Base 

Towards the 19th century, African chiefs from various tribes were banished and sent to this island as well as Muslim leaders from Dutch colonies in the East Indies who were also imprisoned. Besides them, soldiers and civilians were also sent to prison on this island.

Several of the prisoners were charged with false crimes while others were charged with no crimes at all. Between the 17th and the 20th century, this island was used as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups as well as a military base. During the period of the 19th century, several people suffered from mental sickness.

Leprosy patients were also isolated on Robben Island since the climate seemed to be healthy and they could be kept away from the society and lepers were confined to a community on the island till 1931. Robben Island is considered a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Symbolizes Triumph of Human Spirit/Freedom/Democracy over Oppression

What remains from its episodic history are the 17th century quarries, the tomb of Hadije Kramat who died in the year 1755, the 19th century `village’ administrative buildings including a chapel and a parsonage, a small lighthouse, the leper’s church, the only remains of a leper colony, derelict World War II military structures surrounding the harbour and the stark and functional maximum security prison of the Apartheid period of the 1960s.

The buildings of Robben Island, bears testimony of its amazing history while at the same time symbolizes thetriumph of the human spirit, freedom and democracy over oppression. The island is now a popular tourist destination which can be reached by ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

 It is open all year round and depending on the weather, tours of the island and prison are led by guides who were earlier prisoners on the island. The land on the island is owned by the State except the island church. The Robben Island Museum operates as a site or as a living museum.

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