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Robben Island

SOUTH AFRICA | Sunday, 26 January 2014 | Views [406]

Today we went to Robben Island. For those who don’t know, this is where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners spent a lot of their prison time. The entire island is now a museum and the only people who currently live there are museum staff and workers. The only way to get to the island is to sign up for a tour. On doing so you can book to go via ferry or, if you have the cash, you can get there via helicopter. We took the ferry!

The journey out to the island is about 20 minutes. I picked the wrong side of the boat to stand on the way out so I didn’t get the best views in the world of either Cape Town (looking back) or the island itself (looking forward). What is did manage to see on the way out were several seals or, I think more likely, sea lions and also a trio of penguins floats contentedly on the swell.

Once we docked on the island we were asked to board busses for the island tour. The tour is quite short as the island is not too large but it covers the old church, owned by the Anglican Church and so never demolished or replaced, and some information about the leper colony that went with this period. The church is still owned by the Anglican Church and as such is the only privately owned building on the island. After that we saw where It also covers the cottage where Robert Sobukwe was held indefinitely with no charges and the village where once the guards and their families lived on the island. The village is now used to house the museum staff who work on the island. As such, it has its own emergency ambulance, post office etc. It did have a school but this was closed in 2011 and the children now have to take the ferry to school each day on the mainland.

The final point of call for the island tour was the quarry. There are 3 quarries on the island, one to the north, one to the south and the one we saw in the middle of the place. These quarries are where most, if not all, of the political prisoner did hard labour the old fashioned way with picks and shovels and wheel barrows.

We were then taken to the prison itself where a previous inmate escorted us around the place and generally became our tour guide for the final part of the day. We were shown around the buildings in a brief, functional way with the odd anecdote here and there from our guides own experience. We were shown the exercise yard, the cells, including the one where Mandela was kept most, the punishment area and the larger communal cells where the women, and some of the male politicals were kept (although not together). After that we got to follow in Mr Mandelas footsteps and take his final walk to freedom, from the prison exit down to the harbour where we could board our boat home.

The sea was much heavier on the way back but I managed to pick the right side of the boat and was well positioned for some great views and pics of Robben Island as it receded behind us and of Cape Town and Table Mountain as thy grew before us. I also managed to spot a few seals/sea lions and plenty of cormorants and gulls on the homeward journey.

I have to say, this was the first time in my trip that I saw Table Mountain looking as I had expected it to look. If for nor other reason, this made the whole trip worthwhile although I think it would be very interesting to come back in 40 years or so, when this country is under new management as it were and all of the guides are just that and are no longer ex-inmates, whose story has a definite bias as they tell it. All in all, well worth the trip.

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