Robben Island

November 1, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Posted in south africa | Leave a comment


Robben Island is just off the water front of Cape Town and has a pretty nasty history. Although at times it was used as an inbetween stop for ships coming and going from Cape Town, the island’s main purpose was to contain the unwanteds from society.Way back in the day, the island was a leper colony; husbands and wives were kept apart because the idea of lepers procreating was not tolerated. Eventually Robben Island became a jail where many political prisoners were held, including nelson mandela.
All of the guides are ex-convicts, which made the tour much better.  our guide had outrageous stories – most of them light-hearted (considering) about outwitting the guards and suffering through nasty food like fish head stew.


I couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to work at a terrible ex-prison where they were once a prisoner. sounds miserable. I asked our guide and he admited that the government forced him into it. they promised it would only be for a month because they were short-staffed; he’s been there a couple years. he said for the first two weeks he couldn’t get through a tour without freaking out and having flashbacks about torture, getting shoved in ditches and electrocuted. horrible. he claims that he learned to like it and now thinks of it as therapy in a way. he was guilty of high treason (whatever that means? he didn’t elaborate).


my favorite story was about the political prisoner’s courtyard. Political prisoners were separated from the rest, which as our guide pointed out was pretty dumb because all these crazy, smart political prisoners had to do all day was debate and talk amongst themselves. anway, there was a walled-in courtyard with a craptastic tennis  court. the political prisoners would pass messages to the other prisoners by putting notes into tennis balls and “accidently” hitting them over the courtyard walls. the normal prisoners would then send notes back by returning the balls. In the courtyard there was a small, horrible garden patch with a tree. Allegedly, Mandela hid his manuscript, a long walk to freedom, in the garden patch.

The political prisoners were sent to work in the limestone quarry every day. 1000 of these prisoners returned in 1995 and each placed a stone by the quarry in memorial of their years of struggle and hardship.



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