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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Robben Island

On the afternoon of our half-day city tour, we decided to check out the (in)famous Robben Island- I'd compare it to our Alcatraz Prison island in the US.

From the waterfront area, it's a short ferry ride over to the rocky island with a very colored past.

The island served as a leper colony for from 1836 until 1931, when it was turned into a fort to defend Cape Town. I can't even imagine living in a time where you'd be sent off into oblivion if you had a particular disease. The graveyard is a sad reminder of those times.

At some point in time, rabbits were introduced into the island and they did what rabbits do. We must have seen several hundred rabbits just bopping along, with no natural enemies, they are free to multiply.

The island is fairly large and contains more than just a prison. There are whole communities set aside for all the former workers, including things like this beautiful old church.

After World War II, the island was turned into a place for prisoners, especially political prisoners during the apartheid era of South Africa.

The island affords some beautiful views of Capt Town & Table mountain when it's not surrounded by clouds.

The world cup is coming to South Africa in 2010 and they are VERY excited about it- we must have seen 400 billboards advertising and welcoming people. The new stadium they are building can be seen on the right at the shoreline.

The lighthouse on the island is over 150 years old, and served as an important maritime warning for the numerous ships that were attempting to reach the port of Cape Town around the numerous rocky shores of Robben Island.

We saw the wreckage of a few ships that didn't make it in the stormy winter weather. There are supposedly dozens of shipwrecks & maybe some treasure still in the waters around the island.

One of the principle reasons for our visit to the island was that Nelson Mandela spent almost 2 decades held as a political prison on the island. We wanted to learn more about the place & appreciate South Africa's history a bit more.

Robben Island was the toughest prison you could be sent to in South Africa. It was almost impossible to have visitors, it was very cold in the winter, and you were housed with the worst of the worst criminals. Although many political prisoners ended up there, they were treated the same as murders and there was also levels of segregation in prison between blacks, Indians and whites.

I'd read his auto-biography, and it was neat to see the quartz (??) mines that he and others slaved away in for months on end.

Another great part of the tour was that they had actual former prisoners giving the tours of the jail. It was neat to hear it first-hand from somebody who had actually spent time in the prison. They did a great job with the displays in the jail- with photos and real artifacts to tell the story.

The big crescendo of tour was seeing the actual cell of Nelson Mandela- where he earned numerous degrees and plotted the peaceful resistance, at least peaceful for a while, of blacks to the forced segregation of the white Dutch descendants.

The island was once home to a very large penguin colony, that was killed off early last century. They have been very successfully re-introduced to the island & were so adorable.

The small harbor on the island had been fortified with these unusual large concrete T's and X's to stop the waves and protect the docks for boats in rough seas. I don't think I'd ever seen so many seagulls on my life!

GOOD NEWS OF THE DAY: Got my iPhone last night when I arrived home and it's awesome! I'm in love....


Dennis the Vizsla said...

That island looks like a fascinating place!

Arlen said...

Hi Amanda,

I just read your blog post about visiting Robben Island in South Africa. I thought you might be interested in The Robben Island Singers. They're a group of three ex-political prisoners who were once locked up on, you guessed it, Robben Island. With Apartheid now gone, they're working in disadvantaged American schools to teach the lessons they learned while imprisoned with Nelson Mandela.

Check them out:

The Robben Island Singers