Robben Island

Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were improsoned on Robben Island before the fall of apartheid. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site with daily tours through the former prison. Four-hour tours depart from Cape Town Harbour and include a ferry ride to the island, a bus tour of the island, and a walking tour through the former political prison. One of the most powerful aspects of our visit was that former policital prisoners of Robben Island give part of the tour.

Trip highlights from November 25th follow. Click any image for a larger view, or click the position to view the location on a map. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at

Robben Island

This is looking back to the main jetty after we’d disembarked the ferry that carried us here from the V&A waterfront.
Robert Sobukwe house

Robert Sobukwe founded the Pan Africanist Congress to opposed apartheid in South Africa. He was arrested in protest of the Pass Law, a form of internal passport system designed to segregate the population that required non-whites to carry a pass book at all times which severaly restricted their movemeents. Sobukwe was kept at Robben Island in solitary confinement in this small hut to prevent him from influencing other prisoners.
African penquins

The island’s original colony of African penguins was wiped out by early settlers before 1800. A new colony established itself in 1993 and is now third-largest for the species.
WWII gun

Robben Island was a military base during World War II. This gun from that era still fires.

The lighthouse on Robben Island was built in 1864 and is visible for 24 nautical miles.

This is the limestone quarry where prisoners were forced to do hard labour. The rock pile on the right of the photo is a memorial rock pile started by Mandela at a 1995 reunion of political prisoners. He placed a single rock in memory of those who could had died in the prison and the other attendees each added their own rock to the pile.

Robben Island was a leper colony in the last half of the 19th century. Hundreds of people died of leprosy here and are buried in several graveyards on the island.
Polical prison

The entrance to the policital prison.

Policital prisons initially slept on the floor with only a small padding and a mat. The windows were barred, but with no glass, so conditions were particularly difficult in the cold winters. Bunks and glass windows were later added.
Kgotso Dede Ntsoelengoe

One of the most powerful aspects of our visit was that former policital prisoners of Robben Island give part of the tour. This is Kgotso Dede Ntsoelengoe, who was imprisoned in the barracks we are in from 1984 through 1991. Kgotso described his experiences as a political prisoner and guided us through the prison buildings.

One of the many ways the apartheid regime tried to wear down the spirit of the policital prisoners was through censorship of their letters. Kgotso told us he once got a letter from his mother that had everything but the salutation and closing cut out. Prisoners also were allowed only two short visits a year from their families, who had to apply for approval and cover travel costs to reach the island.
Mandela’s cell

This is the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years with no toilet and only a mat to sleep on. The cell was too small for him to lie down, so he had to sleep partially curled up.

Show locations on map Click the travel log icon on the left to see these locations on a map, with the complete log of our cruise.

On the map page, clicking on a camera or text icon will display a picture and/or log entry for that location, and clicking on the smaller icons along the route will display latitude, longitude and other navigation data for that location. And a live map of our current route and most recent log entries always is available at


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One comment on “Robben Island
  1. ronp says:

    Wow, great photos and reporting! Thanks!

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