The end of apartheid is one of the most significant events in African history, at least in the past decade. And there is one site that symbolizes the return to freedom as no other: Robben Island.
The island is 30 minutes ship ride away from cape town is mostly known for being a prison for political enemies of the white regime, especially Nelson Mandela, who is the undisputed icon for the freedom fight of black Africa, former president and a Nobel prize winner.
The British and Dutch colonialists started to send their prisoners in the end of the 17th century. But it also served as a leper colony and later as military base or educational area for nurses. In 1961 it was again used for political prisoners such as Mandela. In 1991 all political prisoners were released. Interesting enough, for Mandela Robben Island wasn’t his last stage. He was transferred to the Victor Verster Prison close to Franschhoek, where he was released in February 1990.
But certainly the 18 years there was his most important period of his live. He wrote his epic book „the long walk to freedom“ and turned from a violent rebel to an intellectual leader of the ANC and of all blacks. Most political prisoners used their time behind bars for studies; therefore it is commonly talked about the Mandela University. Eventually 11 of his former co-prisoners were part of the first government of Mandela. One of the most touching moments is, when you see the cell of Nelson Mandela. But actually it is a place of joy for many of the African tourists, especially for those from other countries of the continent. The take pictures of themselves all of the times and are very happy and cheerful. Eventually it is a place of victory.
Today former prisoners, who live on the island with their families, run the museum. The guides are former comrades to and tell their very personal stories of their time in prison. This is very touching, but sometimes you get the feeling it becomes a pose also. If you tell your story every day, this might have an effect on the words. But I am glad for the fact, which they go through with it, because stones are nothing without emotions. And as a matter of fact the island is one of the major tourist attractions of whole Africa and a massive business. A ticket is about 20 Euro, which includes the ship ride. The whole trip is about two hours. The problem is you can’t really stroll around and do as many pictures as you want. Everything is under control; you are all the time with a guide, in a bus or behind bars.
It is really important, that you reserve your ticket in advance, as the capacity on the boat is limited, i think there are 4 run-throughs every day. It is quite common, that the boat is not running due to strong wind. You have to check every morning at the departure hall at the promenade in green point. Interesting enough the island is a fantastic reservation for all kind of animals. There are over 25.000 rabbits and it is even home to one of the largest penguin farms in the world. All due to the fact, there are almost no people and cars on this soil.