For nearly 400 years, Robben Island – set in the Atlantic Ocean some 12 kilometres from Cape Town – was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.
During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its brutality. The duty of those who ran the Island and its prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their convictions.
Those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison ‘hell’ into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation. Robben Island came to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity.
It was home for many years to famous South Africans such as Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. The cream of the country’s political leadership spent time here plotting about how they could win freedom and independence for their people
Today tourists can visit the island, see the cells in which these people spent much of the adult years and listen to first-hand accounts of life on what has been called one of the world’s great university’s of political struggle and strategy. It became a World Heritage Site in December 1999.