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Robben Island Museum

Robben Island Museum

Robben Island can be found in Table Bay, about 12 kilometres from the Cape Town CBD. People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water.

This piece of land is actually the summit of an ancient, now totally submerged mountain, linked by an undersea saddle all the way to the Blouberg. Its lower strata consists of Malmesbury shale forming a rocky and somewhat inhospitable coastline. Above this lies a thick limestone and calcrete deposit covered by windblown sands and shell fragments. It is low-lying with the highest point being 25 metres above sea-level, also known as Minto's Hill.

The island is steeped in history dating way back to 1488 when Bartholomeu Dias, the Portuguese explorer, discovered it. Throughout the years the island has been used as a post office, an outpost , defence station in World War II (1939-1945), a hospital for leprosy patients, the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931) and of course the prison that housed Nelson Mandela.

As there was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s, Robben Island was a type of prison hospital.

For 400 years, Robben Island 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 institutional brutality.

The prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their beliefs.Not that it helped them change.

Since 1996, this island has become a living museum of national and international heritage. The museum is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. It runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development and conducts ongoing research.

Views from the Maximum Security Prison are barred. As former prisoners show tourists around they mention this curiosity: All the windows looking out to the mountain or the sky are closed up or barricaded. This strange and powerful image of the barred and inaccessible windows that moved the graphic designer who designed the corporate identity of South Africa's most famous icon of human transcendence.

Robben Island imagery comprises bars that turn into a human figure, arms aloft, celebrating freedom. Behind them is the patch of blue that kept hope alive. The typography is naive, without a slick or finished look.

Within these boundaries the Indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British settlers soldiers and civilians, women, and any anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the PAC, Robert Sobukwe, were all imprisoned.

Today, however, Robben Island tells us about the victory over Apartheid and other human rights abuses: 'the indestructibility of the spirit of resistance against colonialism, injustice and oppression'. Overcoming opposition from the prison authorities, prisoners on the Island after the 1960s were able to organise sporting events, political debates and educational programmes, and to assert their right to be treated as human beings, with dignity and equality. They were able to help the country establish the foundations of our modern democracy. The image we have of the Island today is as a place of oppression, as well as a place of triumph.

Robben Island itself is barren and windswept with no pretensions, but it holds a wealth of bird-life, Natural vegetation, marine and wildlife.

The environment provides a sheltered and safe haven for this large variety of bird species, some of which are endangered. Many of the birds use the Island for breeding. Some birds from the mainland such as crowned cormorant and black crowned night herons breed on in large colonies on the island.

African penguin is a species that was abundant in the 17th century but was nearly brought to extinction in the 1800s by human activities. By 1983 the penguins were re- introduced and now has established themselves as a breeding population.

Robben Island has all types of flora and fauna, however it has been affected by humans through farming practices and by introducing extensive plantations of shrubs and exotic trees, some of which were planted to provide shade for patients during the Islands leper colony period.

The boat trip between Cape Town and Robben Island provides an opportunity to see a wide spectrum of seabirds and marine mammals including Southern Right whales, Cape Fur seals, and Dusky and Heaviside Dolphins.

The Island has 23 species of mammals, which have been recorded including small herds of bontebok, springbok, steenbok, fallow deer and eland. An increasing number of ostriches, lizards, geckos, snakes and tortoise can also be found.

The Museum Tours Department includes ex-political prisoners who act as tour guides on this World Heritage Site. One such guide is Lionel Davis, who in April 1964, was sentenced to six years on Robben Island, after being found guilty of conspiring to commit sabotage. Now Lionel lives on the Island with his family and is the chairperson of the Robben Island Village.

Robben Island Museum has a wide range of venues for hire, from the Nelson Mandela Gateway to the Robben Island facility at the V&A Waterfront.

The experience begins at the Nelson Mandela Gateway next to the new Clock Tower Precinct in the V&A Waterfront. The Gateway is Robben Island Museum's "front door", a mainland symbol of the importance of the Island for SA young democracy.

children aged 4-17 years
Free for children under 4
Concession rates to schools and disadvantaged groups are also considered
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