Growing up I had heard a lot about Robben Island and as such I doubt there is anyone who has not, however, just in case, it is most popular for being the place Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid revolutionist, later President was incarcerated for 18 years out of his 27years jail time.
I was now in Capetown and as such it was one of the first few places I saw, also considering the fact that it is listed as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites, it was a must see. After surviving the wait as there are a lot of tourists at this time of the year and its preferable to book online, I finally got on a ferry to Robben Island, I was so excited to see people from diverse race and background also visiting as it felt good to see a lot of people also uniquely interested in African history and culture.
The ferry ride took about 45minutes and then we were at Robben Island. On getting to the island we had tour buses waiting for us with a tour guide who showed us round, ours was particularly funny and witty, he would ask us what country we were from and told us the roles our various countries played in the South Africa’s Struggle against Apartheid.
Our first stop was at Robert Sobukwe’s house, he was one of the foremost proponents of the anti-apartheid movement. Many believe the struggle started with Nelson Mandela but it however started with Sobukwe who commanded a lot of respect from the then South African Blacks, we were told of the influence he wielded even right in prison such that he had to be kept in solitary confinement so as to prevent chaos. He is however one of the least documented freedom fighter in South Africa.
Robben Island before what it is today was a place of banishment, we were made to understand that, there were not only political prisoners on the island but also notorious criminals , lepers and people who were banished due to one illness or the other were inhabitants of the island. They also had a graveyard exclusively for the lepers on their death. Robben Island was not only home to South African prisoners but also prisoners from other countries.
Next we moved up to the lime quarry, this was where prisoners were made to work for hours, here there were exposed to harsh conditions and weather. Despite that, they sang freedom songs to soar their spirits. Education was of importance to the prisoners and despite the hard labor they still undertook distance learning courses and most of them left the island with a minimum of one degree.
Also there were stops at the Garrison Church, Da waal Battery where a bit of world war II was mentioned and how it was built to defend Capetown , also there was the Kramat which is a burial site for a Muslim sheikh.
Finally the bus tour ended and we were then taken on a foot tour, we were quite fortunate to have us a tour guide who was once held prisoner on Robben Island, he recounted to us his experiences, the daily routine of prisoners, the means of communication when letters were being censored, the failed attempts at escape and the protest for shoes and better clothing(trousers) by going on hunger strike. He showed us Nelson Mandela’s cell, the sports ground and also cells in other blocks.
Robben Island was a great experience, I was able to transcend through time and space, I was able to perceive the experience of years before i set foot on the island through the vivid recounts and was glad I came around.
We left Robben Island back to the V and A waterfront during sunset, the view was awesome, worth watching and taking a few clicks, I also saw a shark jump out of the sea although I wasn’t able to take a click of that.