This is perhaps the most well-known island in South Africa. The first thing that springs to mind when you hear the words Robben Island is Madiba (as Nelson Mandela is known to South Africans). Robben Island is a 3.4-kilometer-long island located in Table Bay, about 8 kilometers south of Cape Town. Because of the seals that lived there, the island was given its name (robben is the Dutch word for seal). Many years ago, this island was a part of the African continent in terms of geography.

The History

The first Europeans to set foot on the island were not the Dutch. The Portuguese had visited the island several years before the English fleet landed in 1591. Jan van Riebeeck came in 1652, and Joris van Spilbergen (from the Netherlands) arrived in 1601. They worked hard to develop the fish and seal businesses on this island, but since it was so isolated, it was also used to keep individuals with terminal diseases and “crazy” people away (from 1846 until 1931). Years ago, even sheep or cow thieves were banished off the island.

The island was used during WWII and a light tower was constructed due to the island’s poor stranding record. After the war, it was turned into a training center for the South African Navy.

In 1961, the Department of Justice took over the island and turned it into a prison. No one was permitted to enter the area, which was surrounded by a 1.5-kilometer protective maritime barrier. Former President Nelson Mandela was condemned to life in prison at this building in 1964. The country’s war-making equipment was uncovered, and 10 individuals were prosecuted in all.


A Museum Island

Since 1997, Robben Island has become a museum, and visitors are once again welcome to visit, leaving from Cape Town’s Waterfront. There has also been a lot of work made towards reintroducing the wildlife that used to flourish on this island. The northern part has been classified as a bird sanctuary, and numerous penguins can now be found there.

No vacation to the Cape is complete without seeing this island, learning more about its colorful past, and paying a visit to Nelson Mandela’s old prison cell. Every day, boats leave for the island from the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town; check the timetable to make sure you don’t miss out! You’ll be welcomed with a magnificent view of Cape Town and Table Mountain when you first arrive on the island. It was an unforgettable experience that you will cherish for the rest of your life!