Famously known as a World Heritage Site, but more importantly: where Former South African President Nelson Mandela was unjustly imprisoned for nearly two decades, is Robben Island. When we were planning our trip to Cape Town, we were choosing between taking a guided tour or doing it on our own; and upon checking, the only difference between the two was that the former had an included hotel pick-up & drop-off. Since the ferry’s departure point was only a 20-minute walk from our hotel, we decided to do it on our own instead.Robben Island is located about 8 kilometers away from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, and takes around 30 minutes to an hour to get there, depending on the kind of boat used. Normally, there are four options for the tour, scheduled & priced as follows, obtained from this link:
- Weekly Frequency: Monday to Sunday (Weather & Demand Permitting)
- Time Frequency: 9:00 | 11:00 | 13:00 | 15:00
- General Tour Fee for Non-South Africans: R550 for Adults & R300 for Children
- Recommended: Book Online, so you can have your e-ticket in your mobile prior to arrival & have no problems with purchasing tickets on-site.
The Nelson Mandela Gateway, which serves as the departure point of the Robben Island General Tour sits at the edge of the V&A Waterfront. Upon entering the building, we went through airport-like security; once inside the building, we saw storyboards hanging all around the walls, depicting the island’s history, which I unfortunately forgot to take photos of. The General Tour is scheduled for around three & a half hours including the roundtrip ferry; you can also have the option to do lengthier and more in-depth trips through specialised tours, which of course costs a lot more than the general tour.
When we arrived on the island, we were led to buses, which is the main mode of transportation for the tour – apart from the prison tour, which will be done on foot, but more on that later.
Robben Island was used as a prison from the 17th century up until the end of the apartheid in 1996; and the Lime Quarry, photo below, is where prisoners were required to do manual labor under the heat of summer & in the harsh cold during winter.
Before proceeding to the tour of the prison grounds, we were brought to the island’s viewpoint, which gives an incredible panoramic view of Table Mountain and its surrounding coast. We also drove past the now-defunct Robben Island Primary School, which was the only school on the island up until it closed in late 2011.
In addition to serving as a prison, Robben Island was once also used as an isolation area for the leper colony. During this time, the community built The Church of the Good Shepherd, completed in 1895; when the island started to officially function as a prison, prisoners would go to the church during the scheduled weekly service – some, for their faith & others just so they could keep track of what day of the week it was.
One of the many reasons why I love to travel is to learn about the history of the country or city I’m visiting & when I was planning our trip to Cape Town – let alone: Robben Island, I honestly didn’t know what we were in for. The apartheid was, simply put: racial discrimination at its finest, where segregation was encouraged by authoritarianism that was prevalent in South Africa’s culture.
When people tried to challenge this mindset, and fight for equality, they were – more often than not – sentenced to time on Robben Island, and that is why Nelson Mandela (together with so many other brave souls) ended up there for a significant amount of time.
It was heartbreaking to see the living conditions therein, survived by our tour guide, as he was unfortunately one of the prisoners detained on the island, having to live through the atrocities & cruelties during the time of apartheid. Pictured below is one of the cells in the prison, similar to that of which Nelson Mandela stayed in for 18 years of his 27 years behind bars, followed by one of the yards on the prison grounds, where he buried the original draft of his autobiographical manuscript, later finalized as his book “Long Walk to Freedom.” As we ended the tour, one thing came to mind, similar to how I felt when we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland – I will never understand how & why innocent people were sentenced to live in these cages just because of the color of their skin or what race they were born into. Robben Island initially seemed to be an unkempt, pure, and undeveloped part of nature, charming it was in its own way – later to be seen from my point of view as we departed, as a place full of pain, yet transformed into a symbol of resistance to prejudice & distorted views that unfortunately still exists in this world; but how moving it was to realize that more and more people are fighting against this mindset, being the driving force of change – an example Nelson Mandela & many others have led to be a great example of.If you’re ever in Cape Town, do the trip to Robben Island. It won’t cost a lot, the general tour will only take – at most – four hours of your time, yet you’ll be going home with a heart full of gratitude and inspiration after seeing a representation of what South Africans had long been fighting for.