Robben Island is situated about 12 km into the sea in the middle of Table Bay. Separated from the Cape mainland by a narrow channel of seawater, the island is an isolated place, considered inaccessible for centuries. The island has been a prison ever since the Dutch settled at the cape in the mid-16th century. During World War II (1939-1945), the island was a training & defence station, & in 1961, it was converted to a maximum-security prison. African, Muslim leaders, Dutch & British soldiers & civilians & even women were all imprisoned on the island.
South Africa’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela & the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Robert Sobukwe, are among the well-known political figures who served their prison sentence on Robben Island during the Apartheid era (separation period). The last prisoner was released in 1991 & today, the prison houses around 700 medium security inmates. Springbok, ostrich, rabbits, penguins & Cape Fur seals are among the wildlife found on the island.
On December 1st, 1999, UNESCO listed Robben Island as a world heritage site. Today the island has a thriving population that lives in a quaint village with a bank, post office, museum & grocery store. Ferries sail daily, taking visitors to the island. The entire trip lasts 3 ½ hours, including the guided tours. For many South Africans, Robben Island is a place alike with leaders, & the struggle for freedom in this beautiful country.