Robben Island

A small island in Table Bay, windswept Robben Island has some fun wildlife and scenic views. It was also home to one of South Africa’s most infamous jails, where the apartheid government held Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment. He and hundreds of other political prisoners lived under harsh conditions, but visits today, led by former political prisoners, are imbued with a tone of optimism about their ability to triumph over such conditions.

Prisoners were forced to complete menial tasks in a small limestone quarry on the island. The glare was so bright that many suffered permanent eye damage (for this reason, nobody is allowed to take flash pictures of Nelson Mandela). They dubbed the quarry “The University”, and while they worked there, the future leaders of South Africa debated various political theories. Prisoners made a concerted effort to educate their guards about the injustices of oppression; guards had to be changed often because so many came to agree with the arguments of their prisoners.

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