South Africas Top Attractions – Robben Island

Robben Island is one of South Africa’s most important historical sites especially as during the Apartheid era it as used to imprison many political prisoners.

Robben Island
While you are in the area you could also visit Robben Island, while not as famous for itself, a former occupant is perhaps the most famous person in Africa: Nelson Mandela. The island is located 7kms off the coast and 12kms from Cape Town, it can be spotted from the top of Table Mountain and the name is Dutch for Seal Island (not to be confused with another Seal Island in False Bay nearby). This site had been used as a prison for over 400 years and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During the Apartheid Era, specifically 1959, the Island became a maximum security prison. Over the following 30 years there were over 3000 men incarcerated there as political prisoners including Nelson Mandela. These men were only allowed family visits once every 6 months and even then only for 30 minutes. The prisoners were forced to do some gruelling tasks such as rock breaking and mining lime, but the resolve and discipline of the Political Prisoners not to break has become legend in South Africa. The last prisoners were removed from the island in 1996 (with Nelson Mandela leaving in Feb, 1990) and in 1997 the island was made a museum.

Today you can reach the island by taking a ferry from the Cape Town Waterfront. On the island you can receive tours from ex-prisoners who can recount the tales of the brutality they received from the guards. The tour of the facility is fairly hard hitting so it’s best to be prepared. In addition to the Prison Museum there is also the Recidency Museum, the Van Riebeeck Quarry and the Battery Museum.

Some of the other things to do on the island include visiting the Robben Island Lighthouse, seeing the penguin colony or visiting the Moturu Kramat, a sacred site for Muslim pilgrimage on Robben Island, was built in 1969 to commemorate Sayed Abdurahman Moturu, the Prince of Madura.

That’s the end of our quick overview of what you can expect while you visit Robben Island. If you think you will want to get around by car while in South Africa have a look at our South Africa Car Hire page and have a look at our competitive rates. For some more information have a look at our other South Africa Blogs.

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