robben island• 9 comments •
One of the infamous vestiges of apartheid era is Robben Island. It was the primary prison in South Africa for political prisoners. The prison is now closed and has become a museum that reflects the "triumph of freedom and human dignity over oppression and humiliation".
The only way for tourists to visit Robben Island is through the official tour, which consists of a ferry ride (departing from the V&A Waterfront) and then a bus tour of the island.
The ferry ride was a lot smoother than the last boat we'd been on. Grabbing a seat on the top deck gives you a chance to snap some unique photos of the city - including the new stadium, the mountains, as well as Robben Island.
After the brief ferry ride we boarded a bus on Robben Island to begin the tour. Our tour guide described the limestone quarries that prisoners were forced to work in. We drove through habitations on Robben Island and learned that former inmates and guards continue to live together on the island. Considering the prison only closed 14 years ago, this is a prime example of South Africa's commitment to reconciliation. We also saw a mosque, church and school.
The second half of our tour was a guided walk through the prison complex. This was led by an ex-political prisoner, Sparks Mlilwana. Sparks had been a prisoner on Robben Island for 7 years. He described to us what it was like to live in the prison and how even when confined they were subject to discrimination ("coloured" and "asiatic" prisoners had much better treatment than "black" prisoners).
We learned about how the prisoners were able to teach one another and continue their work from inside the prison. We also saw the cell Nelson Mandela lived in for 18 years but were confused to learn that it had been recently repainted. I can't imagine the rationale for repainting the cell. I felt like some of the significance was lost looking at a cleanly painted, restored cell.
Visiting the island gave us a new perspective of the incarceration of Nelson Mandela and the apartheid era.