Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

South Africa: Robben Island

Our trip to Africa began with wanting to see animals. We quickly realized that we could easily add Cape Town and its wine region, and that put Robben Island within reach. It's a 45-minute boat ride from the extremely busy and touristy Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.  What was once a prison island where Nelson Mandela spent most of his years as a political prisoner is now a monument to what South Africa endured during the apartheid years and how it moved beyond them. The prison years are not so long ago. Former political prisoners serve as guides during walking tours of the prison buildings. A visit here is essential to understanding just how brutal things were during the more than four decades of apartheid.
     An earlier posting describes our entire six weeks in Africa and has links to all the places we stayed. Keep scrolling and hitting "older posts" to find it, or simply click HERE.

Robben Island was a leper colony before it was a prison. The
tour starts with a bus ride around the island to see the community
where guards and their families lived along with former
military installations. 

At a reunion of former prisoners during Nelson Mandela's presidency, he picked up a rock
at the stone yard where prisoners worked breaking rocks into gravel and moved it to an
open space. Other prisoners added one stone each, resulting in this pile.

The prison compound still looks like a prison.

A former political prisoner speaks to tourists during a tour of the prison buildings.

Mandela's cell.

A walkway between cell blocks.

Many cells are open for visitors to enter, each
with a photo of a former occupant and the date
of his internment.

Prisoners were asked to write something about their time
at Robben Island, This was Tony Sexwale's story.

A former prisoner wrote about how prisoners overcame their anger and desire for
revenge. One of the slogans used in  marketing Robben Island as a museum is "The
 Triumph of the Human Spirit." This story explains what that means.

A watchtower with no one to watch.

This large barracks-like room is the last place on the tour.  Visitors then take the same walk
that Mandela once took, from the prison to the pier for the boat to Cape Town.

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