Robben Island, Once, It was a ‘Home’ of Nelson Mandela
When I was in Cape Town, one of tourist attractions that I did not want to miss was Robben Island. My friend – Sari, and I had planned to visit the island since our first day in Cape Town. However, we could not just go to the island anytime we wanted. Weather should be considered too since the boat would not take us to the island when it was too windy. Therefore, we merely could manage to visit the island at our last day in Cape Town. Located on 6.9 kilometers west of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, Robben island was ovally shaped with few meters above the sea levels. The name was taken from Afrikaans’ word “Robbeneiland” mean the seal island.
The ferry took us to the island departed from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the VnA Waterfront. The tour took three and half hours including the ferry trips and the tour within the island. In the island, a bus was prepared for one big tourist group. For your information, you can not go to the island by yourself. A special tour is required to be booked. When we arrived in the island, a big bus was waiting for us. The bus took us around the island to see some important spots of the island. The last and the most interesting place that we visited was the prison.
A guide had been prepared to take us around the prison and explain the history of the prison. Some posters were placed closed to the entrance gates, showing how the prisoners spent their life in the prison. In Robben island, the prisoners faced hard labors to break the rocks. They were not able to sing, read, and play sports. Charges would be given to whom who did not obey the rules and punishment was ensued afterwards.
The Apartheid government was not the first to function the island as prison. Back to 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch had sent political prisoners from the Dutch East Indies (now, Indonesia) to the island. A holy shrine called as Kramat on the island was dedicated to the Prince Madura – Pangeran Chakra Deningrat – who died in the island in 1754. When British took over the Cape, they used the island to imprison people who did not follow their rule. In the mid 19th century, Robben island became the leper colony. At the beginning, the lepers were moved on a voluntary basis. But, after 1882, they were forced to live in the island with no possibility to return to the mainland.
The most sadden period of the island was the late 20th century when South Africa’s apartheid regime used the island as Maximum Security Prison for political prisoners. One of the prisoners was Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, who spent 18 years of his life in that prison. Mandela was accused on sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the current government. Even though Mandela and other five accused admitted sabotage, but they denied that they initiated the war against the government. On his trial to highlight his political cause, Mandela gave his famous ‘I am prepared to die‘ speech. His speech ended with these words”
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The symbolic of the island lies on its dark history, yet it came to an end in the 1990s when Apartheid regime was declined by the South African people. The prisoners who lived there for years finally got their freedom. Today, Robben island was one of famous tourist attractions in Cape Town and had been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.