Robben Island is located about seven km off the coast of Cape Town. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level. The island served as a leper colony in the 19th century and was later used as a maximum security prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals from 1961 until 1991. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars. To date, three of the former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.
We’re now in Cape Town. We arrived two days ago after a 28-hour journey from Bombay. We’re in a two bedroom flat in the city centre, about two blocks away from Parliament. Our visit coincides with that of a friend, Anton Simanowitz, who’s here with his wife, kids, brother and parents. We spent a memorable day together yesterday and visited Robben Island.
The view of Cape Town from the direction of the island is breathtaking.
We took a bus from the ferry docks to the prison, stopping along the way to learn about the history of the island and its residents.
This was on the side of our bus:
The courtyard outside Mandela’s cell:
It was a really powerful experience for all of us. The prison, the racist policies, the leper colony’s graveyard, the quarry where political prisoners laboured.
We caught the last return ferry to the city and on the way whales swam alongside our boat, as if escorting us part of the way back.
We’re starting to settle in here and are finding our way around. We’ll be in Cape Town for almost three weeks and look forward to learning more about the city and writing about our experiences.