Robben Island, Cape Town

Cape Town & Western Cape Tourist Attractions

Robben Island, Cape Town

View of Cape Town from Robben Island
View of Cape Town from Robben Island

For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here at Robben Island that rulers sent those regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society.

During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran Robben Island and the Robben Island prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison on Robben Island for their beliefs. Those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison 'hell-hole' into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation. Robben Island came to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity.

People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water. Since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island has been used primarily as a prison.

Robben Island, South Africa
Robben Island, South Africa
Indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British settler soldiers and civilians, women, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned on Robben Island.

Today, however, Robben Island also tells us about victory over Apartheid and other human rights abuses: 'the indestructibility of the spirit of resistance against colonialism, injustice and oppression'. Overcoming opposition from the prison authorities, prisoners on Robben Island after the 1960s were able to organise sporting events, political debates and educational programmes, and to assert their right to be treated as human beings, with dignity and equality. They were able to help the country establish the foundations of our modern democracy. The image we have of Robben Island today is as a place of oppression, as well as a place of triumph.

Robben Island, South Africa
Robben Island, South Africa
Robben Island has not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for leprosy patients, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931). In the 1840s, Robben Island was chosen for a hospital because it was both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure).

During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on Robben Island. As there was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s, Robben Island was a kind of prison for the hospital patients too. Since 1997 Robben Island has been a museum. The museum on the Island is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. The Robben Island Museum runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to Robben Island and fulfils an archiving function.

Additional Reading For a brief history and more photographs see our article at "Robben Island, a brief history".

Robben Island

Accommodation nearby

For accommodation nearby see:
• Cape Town Central accommodation • Devils Peak accommodation • Foreshore accommodation
• Gardens accommodation • Granger Bay accommodation • Higgovale accommodation
• Highlands Estate accommodation • Kloof Nek accommodation • Oranjezicht accommodation
• V&A Waterfront accommodation • Vredehoek accommodation • Woodstock accommodation

See All accommodation at City Bowl accommodation or Cape Town accommodation.

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Attractions / Activities nearby

District Six Museum

When the apartheid government swooped on District Six, Cape Town in 1965, forcibly removing its occupants and declaring the area a "whites-only" zone, the rich fabric of an impoverished but vibrant community was torn to shreds. Over 60 000 people were wrenched from their homes, livelihoods ... more information

V&A Waterfront

One of Cape Town's biggest tourist attractions, the Waterfront evokes images of the early activities of the harbour. Much of its charm lies in the fact that this busy commercial harbour is set in the midst of a huge entertainment venue with pubs, restaurants, specialty shops, craft markets, theatres and movies ... more information

Robben Island Penguin Colony

Few people know of this colony's existence. When the Dutch originally arrived in the Cape, penguins dominated the island. But by 1800 they were all gone - killed to add variety to the rabbits introduced in 1685 as a source of meat for passing ships. As with both Stony Island and Boulders ... more information

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Related Things to Do

Tour of Robben Island

Where: Cape Town
How much (per person): On Request

Declared a World Heritage Site a tour of Robben Island takes 3 and a half hours and lasts a lifetime in your mind. The ferry ride approachin ... more information

See the Light on Robben Island

Where: V&A Waterfront
How much (per person): On Request

Robben Island is a small island whose activities have documented the changing of time, the course of history and the progress of mankind ... more information

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Also see Things To Do in Cape Town City Bowl or check out Things To Do in Cape Town to view activities by category, including watersports, sightseeing activities, arts & crafts and many, many more.

On SA-Venues.com you'll find plenty of South Africa accommodation options. We've also listed nearby activities for any town or city in which you plan to stay. And the big bonus is that you deal directly with the venues - no fees involved. With eight world heritage sites, a multitude of game reserves and national parks, over 1350 ha of national botanical gardens, and exotic combinations of landscapes, people, history and culture, South Africa offers the traveller a unique and inspiring experience. Enjoy your visit to Robben Island!
For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment
Western Cape / Cape TownWestern Cape