Saturday, 2 October 2010

Cape Town. Day 2. Robben Island Tour.

As advised by many people, we booked our tour to Robben Island well in advance. We are lucky that we did – the boat that they normally use was broken, and they had to call in other, smaller boats to ferry groups to the Island. We were delayed about 45 minutes, and the boat trip took an extra half an hour each way.

We had an interesting lesson in the difference in ‘personal space’ on the way out to Robben Island. We grabbed a nice spot on the rear deck with a table and a bench seat either side. We sat the 4 of us there for the start of our trip. Within about 15 minutes, after Cameron had gotten up to go exploring, a family descended and squeezed onto the table with us. Every time you gave an inch to create a bit of personal space, the family slid along and filled it and another member joined the table! In the end we had us, plus 5 extras on the benches and the table! Nicole took it all with good grace and ended up having a chat to the lady she was literally rubbing shoulders with (in fact, she had her arm around Nicole most of the journey!)

View from the boat towards Cape Town, on the botton left hand corner is the Green Point Stadium used for the FIFA World Cup 2010.

Robben Island is 11 kilmetres from Cape Town.  Robben Island was first used in the 1650's by the Dutch and throughout it's history it has mainly been used as a prison. See this link for the chronological order of what Robben Island has been used for...interesting reading!

We were met by a bus when we arrived at Robben Island and were taken on a tour to see the main sites of the Island before visiting the Maximum Security Prison.

Before getting on the tour bus.
 Between 1846-1931, Robben Island was used as a hospital for mental patients, chronically ill and lepers.
The Limestone Quarries.
Prisoners were sent to the limestone quarries to remove the limestone (by hand). Many prisoners who were exposed to limedust had severe health problems.  Nelson Mandela's tear ducts were damaged after years of limedust exposure.

 It was 11 kilometres from Robben Island to the coast of Cape Town.  The stretch of water was icy cold, often large waves, and rumour was it was full of sharks.  Very few prisoners attempted to escape.

The yellow house where Robert Sobukwe spent over 6 years in solitary confinement.
The building behind housed the guard dogs.  1 kennel for each dog, the dog's kennels were larger than the prisoner's cells in the maximum security prison.
 One of the guard towers.
The Maximum Security was fenced with 2 rows of barbed wire fences, with guard dogs in the middle section.

We left the bus and met one of the former political prisoners, who took us through the prison.

We first visited Section F, which usually housed 50-60 prisoners.  These prisoners were "common criminals".  Bunk beds were introduced in the late 1970's, until then, everyone slept on the floor on mats.  The lights were on 24 hours a day, and no glass in the windows.  Prisoners were constantly covered in lice and other creepy crawlies throughout the night.

We were shown the average diet offered to the prisoners, with ‘coloureds’ getting more rations than blacks, and no fruit or vegetables for anyone.

We moved through other cells and yards and eventually saw the high level maximum security section, Section B, which housed the political prisoners.  The cells in Section B consisted of solitary confinement cells for the political leaders and prisoner.  The most popular of these, of course, was cell 7, which housed Prisoner 466/64, Nelson Mandela. Interestingly, each of these cells was smaller than the pens used for each of the guard dogs used at the prison. It was here that Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his incarceration, (18 years of his 27 years of imprisonment) before being moved to the mainland for the last few years of his sentence at Pollsmoor Prison.

It was an interesting experience to see the harsh setting, to hear the first hand stories, and to imagine the effects that it would have on those held here. It is also impressive to reflect on the courage and determination of those held here to continue their struggle for what they believed in.
One of the guys on our tour asked our tour guide how he felt about working here at the musuem, and reliving this part of his life every day.  He said that if someone would offer him another job he would take it, but he has no formal education and no skills that could be used.

The visit was not long enough, and we wanted to learn more.  Nicole bought a book called Robben Island, by Charlene Smith to read later on.

We travelled back (by slow boat) and arrived back at the V&A Waterfront late in the afternoon.

At the Waterfront, we saw some seals who were sunbathing.

 This area has a gate open where seals can jump up and sunbath, protected from the boats in the harbour.

No comments: