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.
Its name was taken from the Dutch word for ‘seals’ and today remains a symbol of stark contrasts:
- You ferry forward to a beautifully maintained World Heritage Site, yet backward in time to the ugly of history
- You feel like prisoners entering jail, yet a former inmate shares his experiences, while enjoying true freedom as your tour guide
- You admire the greatness of the political prisoners who were held here, yet abhor the smallness of the minds that propagated hate and segregation
- 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
As one wanders along the now silenced cell corridors, or strolls across the serene environs of the well-manicured grounds, the photos, scripts on the walls and gruesome tales of what happened during those dark days makes the mind falter and wonder – was this for real??
Yet, throughout the journey from one corner to the other, in the sharing of stories and displays of memorabilia, there constant encouragement not to remain sad or get bitter.
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 Freedom fighters, Viva South Africa!
This one-day excursion is highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Cape Town with at least half a day to spare. You’ll need to make a booking well in advance though, as this is a highly valued excursion with high demand from tourists.
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