World Heritage Sites in Cape Town

Robben Island

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Robben Island (Afrikaans Robbeneiland) or Penguin Island is an island in Table Bay, some seven kilometres off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km long north-south, and 1.9 km wide, with an area of 5.07 km² . It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. The island is composed of Precambrian metamorphic rocks belonging to the Malmesbury Group. It is of particular note as it was here that former South African President and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela and incumbent South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, alongside many other political prisoners, spent decades imprisoned during the apartheid era.


Robben Island was first inhabited thousands of years ago by stone age people, at a time when sea levels were considerably lower than they are today and people could walk to it.Шаблон:Fact It was then a flat-topped hill. Towards the end of the last ice age, the melting of the ancient ice caps caused sea levels to rise and the land around the island was flooded by the ocean. Since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used to isolate certain people — mainly prisoners — and amongst its first permanent inhabitants were political leaders from various Dutch colonies, including Indonesia. After a failed uprising at Grahamstown in 1819, the fifth of the Xhosa Wars, the British colonial government sentenced African leader Makanda Nxele to life imprisonment on the island . He drowned on the shores of Table Bay after escaping the prison.

From 1836 to 1931 the island was used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. During the Second World War, the island was fortified and guns were installed as part of the defences for Cape Town.

Apartheid era

Under the apartheid regime, Robben Island became a maximum security prison in 1959, and its character as an island-prison near to a major population centre invites comparisons with Alcatraz. Between 1961 and 1991, over three thousand men were incarcerated here as political prisoners, often for decades, including the distinguished international statesman Nelson Mandela. Prisoner family member visits were restricted to once every six months, for a period of only thirty minutes, in conditions which made even conversation difficult. The only reading material allowed was the Bible. In addition, according to a historical presentation about Robben Island that was once made at Wheaton College, the prison administration and guards had a consistent unofficial policy of discouraging anyone from teaching illiterate political prisoners how to read. After being released, some prisoners wrote accounts mentioning this oppressive policy. Some of them created improvised teaching materials, and formed small, clandestine teaching circles to instruct each other how to read. However, they had to be ready to hide these materials at a moment's notice. A variety of barbaric impositions were made on prisoners, including breaking rocks and mining lime. In the early 1980s, many prisoners engaged in more active demands for rights, and a 1981 hunger strike reinforced their case and led to some minor improvements in conditions.

Throughout this period, security was very tight and the island off limits to almost all civilians, including fishermen. Before about 1980 almost no-one, even among inhabitants of Cape Town, had set foot on the island. It is not generally known that the use of the island as a prison was greatly inhibited for centuries by a lack of fresh water. The island is arid, with low scrubby vegetation and has no watercourses. Boreholes were drilled in the first half of the 20th century but in due course the fragile water table was invaded by sea water and the bores became useless. Sometime after 1965 a pipeline was laid on the bottom of the ocean from Cape Town.

The particular character of the apartheid era prisoners, and their disciplined morale in the face of considerable difficulties and even abuse, is well attested as being sustained by their commitment to the cause of the struggle for freedom, in particular for the majority black African population.

In June 1980 Frederik Willem de Klerk initiated the removal of political prisoners, and most prisoners left by May 1981. The last of the non-political prisoners (who had always been held separately from political prisoners) left the island in 1996, and it became a museum in 1997. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on the island after his conviction in April 1964, and remained there until being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town in April 1984.

Makana Football Association

In 1966 the prisoners organized a football (soccer) league, the Makana Football Association. The club kept meticulous records that eventually filled 63 cardboard boxes. Sports historian Charles Korr began studying the records in 1993, when he was a visiting professor at the University of the Western Cape. Korr used the records as the basis of a book, More Than Just A Game.

The political prisoners used the Makana Football Association to replicate the outside world and prove, both to themselves and the apartheid regime in Pretoria, that they were capable of running anything, even a country, according to Korr.

Korr's book was made into a docudrama film that premiered in the United States on November 22, 2008 at the St. Louis International Film Festival. Sony Pictures Television International holds U.S. rights to the movie and will show it on cable in 2010 in advance of the World Cup in South Africa.

Maritime peril

. The view is roughly to the north-northwest. The distant sandy shore beyond disappears towards Saldanha Bay.]] Robben Island and nearby Whale Rock have been the nemesis of many a ship and its crew. The surf of the open Atlantic Ocean thunders continuously at its margins and any vessel wrecked on the reefs offshore is soon beaten to pieces and disappears. In the latter half of the 1600s a Dutch ship laden with gold coins earmarked for the payment of the salaries of employees of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) disintegrated on these reefs a short distance off shore, in relatively shallow but very restless waters.Шаблон:Fact The gold today would be worth tens of millions of pounds sterling or U.S. dollars. A few coins have washed ashore over the centuries but the treasure itself remains in the ocean. It is protected largely by the almost ceaseless and violent surf. Many other vessels have been wrecked around the isle.


Today the island is a popular tourist destination and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. It is reached by ferry from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town and is open throughout the year, weather permitting, and tours of the island and prison are led by guides who were formerly prisoners there. Robben Island Museum (RIM) operates as a site or living museum. All the land on the island is owned by the State, with the exception of the island church.

Robben Island lighthouse

Шаблон:Location map+ Jan van Riebeeck first set a navigation aid atop Fire Hill (now Minto Hill), the highest point on the island. Huge bonfires were lit at night to warn VOC ships of the rocks which surround the island. The current Robben Island lighthouse, built on Minto Hill in 1864, is Шаблон:Convert high and was converted to electricity in 1938. It is the only South African lighthouse to utilise a flashing light instead of a revolving light.Шаблон:Fact Its light is visible for 24 nautical miles.

Moturu Kramat

The Moturu Kramat, a sacred site for Muslim pilgrimage on Robben Island, was built in 1969 to commemorate Sayed Abdurahman Moturu, the Prince of Madura. Moturu, one of Cape Town's first 'imams', was exiled to the island in the mid 1740s and died there in 1754. Muslim political prisoners would pay homage at the shrine before leaving the island.

Animal life

When the Dutch arrived in the area in 1652, the only large animals on the island were seals and birds, principally penguins. In 1654, the settlers released rabbits on the island in order to provide a ready source of meat for passing ships. The original colony of African Penguins on the island was completely exterminated by 1800. However the modern day island is once again an important breeding area for the species after a new colony established itself there in 1983. The colony has grown to 13,000 and is now the third biggest for the species. The penguins are easy to see close up in their natural habitat and are therefore a popular tourist attraction.

Around 1958, Lieutenant Peter Klerck, a naval officer serving on the island, introduced various animals. The following extract of an article, written some 10 years ago by Michael Klerck who was born on the island, describes the fauna life there:


The SPCA is currently culling the more than 10,000 rabbits.Шаблон:Fact

List of former prisoners held at Robben Island

  • Autshumato, one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
  • Dennis Brutus, former activist and poet
  • Patrick Chamusso, former activist of the ANC
  • Laloo Chiba, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Eddie Daniels, author and activist
  • Jerry Ekandjo, Namibian politician
  • Nceba Faku, former Metro Mayor of Port Elizabeth
  • Petrus Iilonga, Namibian trade unionist, freedom fighter and politician
  • Ahmed Kathrada, former Rivonia Trialist and long-serving prisoner
  • Langalibalele, one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
  • Mosiuoa Lekota, imprisoned in 1974, President and Leader of the Congress of the People
  • Mac Maharaj, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader and former President of South Africa
  • Chief Maqoma, former chief who died on the island in 1873
  • Michael Matsobane, leader of Young African Religious Movement. Sentenced at Bethal in 1979; released by PW Botha in 1987.
  • Jeff Masemola, the first prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment in the apartheid era
  • Amos Masondo, current Mayor of Johannesburg
  • Govan Mbeki, father of former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Govan was sentenced to life in 1963 but was released from Robben Island in 1987 by PW Botha
  • Makana,one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
  • Wilton Mkwayi, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Murphy Morobe, Soweto Uprising student leader
  • Sayed Adurohman Moturu, the Muslim Iman who was exiled on the island and died there in 1754
  • Griffiths Mxenge, a South African Lawyer and member of the African National Congress
  • M.D. Naidoo, a South African lawyer and member of the African National Congress
  • John Nkosi Serving life but released by PW Botha in 1987
  • Nongqawuse, the Xhosa prophet responsible for the Cattle Killing
  • Maqana Nxele, former Xhosa prophet who drowned while trying to escape
  • John Nyathi Pokela, co-founder and former chairman of the PAC
  • Joe Seremane, current chairperson of the Democratic Alliance.
  • Tokyo Sexwale, businessman and aspirant leader of the African National Congress
  • Walter Sisulu, former ANC struggle hero
  • Robert Sobukwe, former leader of the PAC
  • Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Namibian politician
  • Jacob Zuma, former Deputy President of South Africa and leader of the ANC



External links

Шаблон:Commons Шаблон:Cleanup-section

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Vuyo Singiswa
29 April 2011
To human spirit and perseverance. A definite must be!
Mack Prioleau
3 August 2015
very cool experience!
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24 Stadler Road, Cape Town 7441, South Africa

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