Located in Table Bay about 11 km from land, within sight of Cape Town, a visit to the former Prison on Robben Island, is one of the most poignant trips you’ll make into the history of South Africa and Apartheid.
This is where the (late) larger than life Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison.
It’s name was taken from the Dutch word for ‘seals’ and today remains a symbol of stark contrasts:
- You ferry forward to a beautifully kept World Heritage Site, yet backward in time to the ugly of history
- You feel like prisoners entering jail, yet the tour guide – a real ex-convict of this jail – is enjoying freedom while sharing his experiences.
- You feel drawn to the greatness of the political prisoners who were held here, yet repelled by the smallness of the minds that propagated hate.
- The stories are fraught with suffering, pain and struggle, yet they bring out the resilience of the human spirit and ultimate triumph over adversity, oppression and injustice.
Everywhere there are constant reminders not to remain sad or get bitter;
Yet the photos, scripts on the walls, gruesome tales of what they went through during those dark days and the quiet of the serene environ, makes the mind falter and wander – was this for real??
Mandela’s actual cell where he spent most of his time is generally plain, save for a few blankets, a stool and little side-table. This is intentional, as a gentle reminder that eventually, he thrived somewhat (by his own account), playing sports, studying and persistently planning freedom (in secret, at great cost)!
As you leave the cells & island, the sentiments catch on… all this has changed, apartheid is no more, Black South Africa is free… FREE at last!
Viva Mandela, Viva South Africa!
This one-day excursion is highly recommended if you ever find yourself nearby.