Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Robben Island

Far from home

Founding Fathers of South Africa (and giant Coke man)
Robben Island ferry ride


Our second day in Cape Town was dedicated to the tourist mecca of the V&A Waterfront (still a working shipyard) and the Robben Island Museum Tour.  Robben Island holds an infamous place in history as a place of banishment for indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British soldiers and civilians, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

The UN World Heritage Site is accessed by a ferry ride through shark-infested waters where you then take a bus tour around the island before being ushered into the prison by a former political prisoner turned guide. 
On the ferry ride, Sarah and I elbowed elderly French tourists out of the way to get a top seat on the boat and ended up seeing one of the famed shark fins.  We saw the lime quarry where prisoners did hard labour, Robert Sobukwe’s private prison, and the former houses of prison wardens.  Once in the prison, we were given a guided tour by a former prisoner involved in political student activism in the turbulent 1970s.  He showed us the communal dormitory cells, playing fields, typical menus (even food was determined by skin colour), and then the star attraction-Nelson Mandela’s cell.  The tourist frenzy ensued to capture the perfect photo, but I think many missed out on the stories told by our guide.  Sarah and I were curious about Walter Sisulu’s cell, but Nelson Mandela’s is the only specifically identified cell of the anti-apartheid freedom fighters. 
It was a fascinating glimpse into a dark history and gives even more context into the country we are guests of.  Never having been in a prison, it was an eerie and disturbing experience to walk through cells and being on an island so close to Cape Town, yet so far away.
Communal room

Row of solitary cells

Our guide

Nelson Mandela's cell
Handprint mosaic

1 comment:

  1. I saw Vancouver in one of your pics and suddenly felt homesick! Also, you'll have to pass me the recipe for t-bone steak and pork chop soup. Sounds rad.