Robben Island, Cape Town

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  • Robben Island
    by CatherineReichardt
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    by tim07
  • Robben Island
    by tim07
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    Visit Robben Island: the ANC's university

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Feb 1, 2012

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    Making the pilgrimage to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the majority of his 27 years in prison features close to the top of most tourist's South African To Do list, and with good reason.

    The island can only be reached by ferry which departs from the V&A Waterfront: the trip takes about an hour each way depending on weather conditions. You should bear in mind that this is a guided tour, and so you are obliged to stick with the group that you travel with rather than wandering around. The trip comprises a walk around the prison complex (including Mandela's former cell) and then a bus ride to the limestone quarry where the prisoners did hard labour.

    Obviously the subject material is depressing - little details such as the differences in clothes and food rations that were afforded to the different race groups serve to underline the arbitrary and unhumane aspects of apartheid - but much of the narrative is ultimately inspirational - not only with respect to Mandela himself, but to the sense of comradeship and development of ideas that developed between the internees. Just be warned that there is relatively little information on Mandela's life, so in order to appreciate the context, I'd strongly suggest that you either visit the stunning Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg en route for Cape Town or the Mandela exhibit at the Slave House in Cape Town before you visit Robben Island.

    This bus ride also takes you past the house where the unfortunate Robert Sobukwe (founder of the Pan Africanist Congress) was kept in solitary confinement for six years - at the time, he was considered more dangerous than Mandela, and the harshness with which he was treated (even by comparison with the terrible conditions that other Robben Island inmates experienced) is what lives with me most vividly from my time on Robben Island.

    Most of the guides are ex-prisoners, and I must confess that ours was distinctly strange and offputtingly aggressive (having started by saying, "ask me anything", he then barked at people when they dared to ask even basic questions), but in fairness, I suppose that a spell in Robben Island prison wouldn't do much to develop your social skills or mental equilibrium. However, I do applaud the fact that people who have been interned on the island - many of whom would otherwise have no job prospects due to poor education and a lack of former work experience - have at least been afforded employment opportunities.

    I thought that the best bit about the tour was the beautiful boat ride (especially the return, when you're looking towards Cape Town) and the bus ride around the island which takes you to the quarry. It may come as some surprise that the island is a pretty place, and because it is a nature reserve, you may well see some wildlife (particularly seals) - at the time of writing (September 2010) the authorities have just relocated a lot of deer that were introduced to the island by settlers with the intention of safeguarding indigenous species.

    Bear in mind that there is very little shade, so bring a hat, sunscreen and lots of water (unfortunately not luxuries afforded to the prisoners).

    One last word of warning: the Robben Island ferry has been bedevilled with mismanagement, and in recent years, has not been operational for weeks at a time. So, in order to avoid disappointment be sure to check in advance that the service is running, and preferably book your tickets in advance, as this is a very popular tour and the queue for tickets at the ferry terminal tends to get extremely long, particularly during peak season.

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    Robben Island

    by iam1wthee Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    If you go in February you only have to book like a week before you would like to go on the tour. Otherwise call late the night before and ask if anyone cancelled normally someone cancels the early morning tour. Or you can just show up at 8am in the morning at Robben Island terminal and ask if anyone cancels. Rain is a good sign cause most people do not want to go then. Normally someone cancels and you can go. It is cheaper to go to the terminal at the waterfront and buy the ticket than to buy the ticket from a tour agency. The tour agency will charge you an arm and a leg just for picking you up waiting for you to come back and then taking you back to the hotel. You can book over the phone.

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    Robben Island Museum

    by GerryFM Updated Apr 4, 2011
    Nelson Mandela's cell at Robben Island

    Robben Island, some 12 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, has huge historical significance in South Africa, most notably for the fact that it housed Nelson Madela for so many years, during the apartheid era.

    It is a really fascinating look into what the political prisoners of the time had to endure, and the unique thing about it, is that your guides on the tours are usually ex-prisoners on the island themselves.

    If you are a big group, I reckimmend that you contct the Robben Island Museum and arrange a cocktail lunch at the Guest House. This is a great addition to your tour of the island.

    Great photo opportunity of Table Mountain, from a different perspective.

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    Robben Island

    by didgeridorien Written Dec 29, 2010
    Nelson Mandela's cell

    The only way to get here is to buy a ticket at the Nelson Mandela Gateway. You then get on the ferry and on the island you are loaded on the bus. First they take you around the island, telling about its long history as a leper colony and prison. After that you visit the high security prison, the guides are all ex-prisoners, which is very impressive. Of course they take you by Nelson Mandela's cell, but they also show you where he hid his first book and what life was like in this prison.

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    Ferry to Robben Island to get best Table Top Pics!

    by jumpingnorman Updated Feb 1, 2009

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    Nice pic of Table Mountain on ferry to Robben Isle

    The ferry going to Robben Island was great because you get to catch the most beautiful pictures of Table Mountain. On the boat, you will be able to get the most complete panoramic picture of Table Mountain as sailors of long ago saw it for the first time...But, on the ferry, they have a limited amount of people who sit at the upper deck. So, if you are intent on getting those good pics, be sure to go up the ferry early to secure a seat.

    Robben Island was where Nelson Mandela was locked up for years and years. The prisoners are still alive and there are volunteers who give the tour and were prisoners themselves. This adds a personal touch to the tour as well as making aware that all of this apartheid happened just recently. The amazing thing is that the ex-prisoners have embraced the concept of peaceful reconciliation for the sake of unity within the country.

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    Visit Robben Island.

    by madeletha Updated Dec 22, 2008

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    If you have great interest in the history of South Africa, then you must visit Robben Island.

    I was born and raised in SA, only went on the tour for the first time in 2008. Although it was sad for me and the experience brought tears to my eyes, I am really happy I did.

    The standard tour includes:-
    - a tour of the prison
    - interaction with an ex-political prisoner
    - a bus tour of the island
    - maybe seeing some of the island's wildlife

    It takes about 3,5 hours, including a 30 minutes ferry ride (each way).

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    Robben Island Prison

    by johnjoe55 Updated Jun 2, 2008

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    Boat at Robin Island
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    Robben Island during the years of apartheid in South Africa was internationally known for its brutality of the prisoners there, one of the most famous being Nelson Mandela. Robben Island is about 12 kilometres from Cape Town so when you are in Cape Town you just must go to the Island. I went on one of the tours to the Robin Island Prison and found it very educational, the tour includes being able to talk to some of the ex-political prisoners who act as tour guides in the prison.
    Tickets are sold in the Nelson Mandela Centre in the V&A Water Front at R150 (£9.80) for adults and R75.00 (£4.90) for children aged 4-17 years. Children under 4 go free, but must be included in the booking. The tour takes about three and a half hour and includes a return trip across Table Bay, a visit to the Maximum Security Prison, interaction with an ex-political prisoner and a 45 minute bus tour with a guide providing commentary.

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    Robben Island

    by kentishgirl Written Mar 2, 2007

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    Poster on Robben Island
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    Robben Island is an essential visit on everyones trip to Cape Town.
    A guided tour out at Robben Island will teach you so much about South Africa, the people, and what some did to get to where they are today.

    I usually hate guided trips, but this fascinated me!
    A trip to Robben Island involves taking the boat from the waterfront across to the island, then getting on a bus, which will in turn take you around Robben Island - with a full commentary, fun and facts.
    After the bus part of the trip you will be joined by another guide, and taken around some of the prison sections - our guide was an ex inmate at Robben Island, and so this trip was not only incredible, but an emotional one.

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    Robben Island,

    by nora_south_africa Updated Nov 25, 2006

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    Prison where Mandela was. Approx price....
    Tickets are sold at R150 for adults and R75.00 for children aged 4-17 years. Children under 4 come free, but must be included in the booking.as at (2006)
    The three and a half hour tour includes a return trip across Table Bay, a visit to the Maximum Security Prison, interaction with an ex-political prisoner and a 45 minute bus tour with a guide providing commentary.For tours to Robben Island at the Tourism Visitor’s Centre at Canal Walk, Entrance 3 and at Cape Town Tourism Offices at the Clock Tower, V&A Waterfront
    Cape Town Tourism Information Office: Tel: (021) 405 4500 Fax: (021) 405 4524
    email:info@tourcapetown.com
    Nelson Mandela Gateway: Tel: (021) 413 4200 Fax: (021) 419 1057
    e-mail: ebookings@robben-island.org.za

    It is possible to visit the Island by Helicopter Contact:
    Civair, at POBOX. 120 Newlands, 7725, Cape Town. or (021) 419-5182

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    Robben Island

    by chikidee Updated Nov 2, 2006

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    prison yard

    Robben Island, one of the most famous prisons on earth, and witness of sad history!
    First of all, book your trip to Robben Island a few days in advance! It's difficult to get on a trip at short notice!
    If you get seasick easily, I recommend you take some pills! I got terribly seasick when I went because the sea was very rough!
    It's impressive to see the cells and hear the stories your guide tells you! All the guids were political prisoners themselves at one stage and that makes the tour much more interesting!
    You also get a tour around the island to hear other amazing stories about the history of the island and to see the quarry where the prisoners had to work!

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    ROBBEN ISLAND

    by BerniShand Written Sep 14, 2006

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    B section, Nelson Mandela`s cell was along here
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    10 kilometres out in Table Bay Robben Island was a prison for over 300 years, right from the earliest settler days. It has been notorious for its inhumanity and brutality not only for political and criminal prisoners but for those suffering from leprosy, the chronically sick and people with serious mental health problems too
    Now even though a visit can be disturbing and shocking it is a symbol of the great change in South Africas thinking and a constant reminder of the unified way forward

    A trip to Robben Island starts at the Gateway on the V&A Waterfront, it is usually necessary to book tours in advance, you must go through the Gateway building to board the ferry and you will have to pass through security screening. There is wheelchair access, if you use a wheelchair do advise them at the time of booking. While you wait for the ferry there are several interesting displays in the waiting room
    The whole tour including boat trip takes about 3 1/2 hours, when you arrive at the island you board busses for an interesting 45 minute guided tour of the island, our guide gave us lots of good information on the history, flora and fauna of the island, then we entered the the maximum security prison where we were guided by an ex-political prisoner who gave us real insight into the life here. It could [and perhaps should] have been a very depressing tour but it wasnt, rather we emerged after it with more understanding and empathy with the struggles of the people here, and gratitude that the dark days are gone
    wheelchair access in the prision is possible but difficult

    Robben Island is now a National Monument and a World Heritage site, tours cost R150 for adults, and R75 children over 4 to 17, under 4 years old are free

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  • jonah1's Profile Photo

    Robben Island: Home to Nelson Mandela for 25 years

    by jonah1 Written Aug 8, 2006

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    Robben island can be seen on the horizon

    I think is a must for ANY person from ANY race, background and conviction. Nelson Mandela (or Madiba as he is called) is an international icon of peace and reconciliation. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 25 years in captivity during the Apartheid era. The prison is on Robben Island (approx 5km offshore) and can be reached via charter boat tour. Now a museum where you can go on tour and get all the info and history

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    Trip to Robben Island

    by Sputnikboy Updated Jul 16, 2006

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    Prison cave
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    Robben Island is and always will be an important part of the History of South Africa. It was added to the World Heritage list in 1999.

    Here hundreds of political dissidents, including Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Walter Sisulu, were persecuted by the apartheid government.

    The trips are all organized and last about two hours and half, excluding the half an hour cruise to the island; during the trip you will take part on a 45 minutes drive around the island, where you can see the leper hospital and its church, the house of PAC leader Robert Sobuke and the cave with a small cavern, where the inmates worked. This cavern is very interesting because there the well educated inmates such as Mandela taught the other illiterate inmates how to read and write: that's why the guide called the cave "The first university of South Africa". In the cavern Mandela and Sisulu wrote the first parts of the Constitution of the new South Africa. Moreover, the colors of the new flag of South Africa was taken from the different colors of the rocks of the cave, which ideally formed a rainbow.

    After the drive you will enter the real prison and a former inmates will explain you how was the life there. They also speak, sometimes with understandable bitterness, about the tortures they and their families suffered. It is a touching moment without a doubt.
    You can see also the former cells of Mandela and Sisulu and the courtyeard where the inmates had some "free time".

    While returning to the ferry, take time to snap a picture to one of the many penguins of the island, they are not shy to be approached.

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    Robben Island Museum

    by Jenniflower Updated May 23, 2006

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    Waiting for the boat to Robben Island

    This is a museum full to the brim of history, tradition and culture! It speaks a grand story, one of terror, reconciliation and peace.

    The museum has a vast collection of art works, photographs, artefacts and historical data.

    Very thorough and telling.

    The Archives depict the political struggle during Apartheid, and are vast, comprising more than 100,000 photographs, 10,000 film and video recordings, 5,000 artefacts, 2,000 oral history tapes, 2,000 posters, more than 300 collections of historical documents and an extensive art collection, including the UN-sponsored International Artists Against Apartheid Exhibition and 10,000 political cartoons.

    Lots to take in and absorb!

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    Sandstone Quarry ~ Robben Island

    by Jenniflower Updated May 23, 2006

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    Jackass penguins

    The prisoners on Robben Island were put to work in eye-blinding quarries. The island has a rich and diverse array of geology, as well as vegetation, birdlife, marine and wildlife.

    Robben Island hosts about 132 bird species.

    These include seabirds, waterbirds and terrestrial birds. A few species have been introduced to the Island by humans such as the Chukar Partridge and Guinea Fowl. Many of the birds here are endangered.

    The African penguin (formerly the jackass) is a species that was extinct by the 1800s due to human activities.

    By 1983 the penguins were re-introduced and have now established themselves as a successful breeding population. They are a favourite attraction for visitors to the island.

    The island is actually an ancient, submerged mountain! It is low-lying with the highest point being 24 metres, known as Minto's Hill.

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