Visit to Robben Island

Group photo at Robben IslandI’ve been living in Cape Town now for the last 8 years and I must ashamedly admit that I only managed to visit Robben Island recently.  The reason for that you may ask?  It’s quite expensive for a South African.  I mean, we talking like ZAR320 for an adult and ZAR180 for children up until the age of 18. So, for my family to go visit Robbin Island will cost us almost ZAR1 000.00.  So, how did I managed a visit to Robbin Island then?  That’s thanks to my cousin and his family who came from London for a visit and spoiled me and my son for a day out with them.

Facts about Robben Island History:

Now, for those of you that is rusty when it comes to History, I’m going to brush it up a little by giving you some facts about Robben Island.  Probably one of the most popular facts about Robben Island, is that it was the prison in which Nelson Mandela served 18 of his 27-year prison sentence before the fall of apartheid.  Apartheid was a system institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between the years 1948 and 1991.  After the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, the prison was closed down and declared a South African National Heritage Site and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The island is situated in Table Bay, 6.9km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand in Cape Town, South Africa.   The name is Dutch for “seal island”, is roughly an oval shape, 3.3 km long from North to South and 1.9 km wide with an area of 5.07 km.  The island is flat and only a few km above sea level.  The only inhabitants on the island is the staff that works for the museum.  The island is also rich in local fauna and flora and is home to a few bird species.

Visiting Robben Island is something that I always wanted to do and the simple reason for that is because firstly, I absolutely love history but probably the most important reason is that I did not really know what the effects of apartheid was.  I was 10 years old by the time the apartheid regime ended.  The only “evidence” I have of this fact is stories from my parents and grandparents and of course, history books.  So, visiting Robben Island was a very important part of understanding my heritage.

Before I visited Robben Island, I read Nelson Mandela’s biography called “The Long Walk to Freedom”, which really laid the foundation for me. Visiting the island after I read the book, allowed me to step into the world of Nelson Mandela and to experience everything as he as described in his book. It was really such an amazing experience.  It was like stepping into his world. I would really recommend that you read the book before you plan a trip to Robben Island.  I was filled with such anger and shame for being white, for the role my forefathers played in the apartheid regime, but at the same time filled with such gratitude that I have the privilege of being part of the new generation that can teach our children that the colour of your skin does not matter, but what matters is the heart.  To have the opportunity to teach our children to live together in harmony and to respect and love each other, no matter their status or skin colour.

The Robben island tour itself:

Robben Island HeritageWhen visiting Robben Island, you need to book quite far in advance as there is limited space for visitors.  This is due to the fact that one needs to take a ferry to the island which has limited space.  There are 3 time slots for tours, namely 09:00, 11:00 and 13:00.  Tours are 3 hours long.  Once you arrive on the island, you are taken by bus for a tour around the island.  You will visit different sites that includes the graveyard of prisoners who died in prison, the mine in which Nelson Mandela worked and the small village on the island. Once the tour around the island is completed, you are taken to the prison for a tour where you will be met by an ex-prisoner that will tell you more about how life was in prison and his experience.  During this session, you are welcome to ask questions.  Once the session is completed, you make your way back to the bus which takes you to the harbour to catch the ferry back to the main land.

Things to consider when visiting Robben Island:

  • Book your tickets in advance online.
  • Put a good sunblock on and take a hat and good walking shoes with you.
  • Take a jersey with as the wind can get a little chilli.
  • It is not recommended to go with children under the age of 1.  A big portion of the tour is done by bus, which makes travelling with a pram very difficult.  Also, when going on the prison tour, there’s a lot of cobble stone pathways and the pathways in the prison is quite narrow, which again makes it very difficult with a pram.
  • Take your camera wi th as there are ample opportunities to take beautiful pictures.
  • Take some cash with you as there is a little shop on the harbour when one can buy some souvenirs.
  • Read Nelson Mandela’s biography “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela” .

In conclusion, if you want to experience something of South Africa’s history and heritage, visiting Robben Island will do just that.  It is such a humbling, yet inspiring experience. It leaves memories and emotions that will last a lifetime. This post really does not do the experience any justice.  So, do yourself a favour and book your tickets now.  You will not regret it!

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