An important part of understanding South African history, is a visit to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters were incarcerated. The island’s history extends way back for some 500 years. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
Originally used as a fueling station, then the settlers used it to keep their sheep as it was away from wild predators. The name comes from the Dutch word for seals.
The limestone quarry is one of the island’s earliest features of human occupation, dating from the mid-seventeenth century. The quarry supplied the dressed stone for the foundations of Cape Town’s Castle of Good Hope.
Robben Island was fortified and used as a prison for political prisoners from the late 17th Century until 1996. It also served as a leper colony from 1845.
Early prisoners were a pair of Malagasy men called Massavana and Koesaaij – probably not their actual names, rather a Dutch phonetic approximation – who lead a mutiny on the slave ship Meermin in 1766 as they were being forcibly transported from their home in Madagascar to be enslaved in the Cape Colony of South Africa. The mutiny led to the shipwreck of the Meermin; Massavana and Koesaaij were not tried for the mutiny but sent to Robben Island for “observation” where Massavana died three years later, Koesaaij survived 20 more years.
Guided Tours run at 09.00 h, 11.00 h, 13.00 h and in summer, also 15.00 h.