On our last day in Cape Town, we visited Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he spent behind bars. Robben Island means seal island in Dutch and it is now a South African National Heritage Site and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In South Africa, you cannot escape Nelson Mandela as his face is everywhere and places are named frequently after him. People have the utmost respect towards him and it is clear that he was a very influential person and without him the history of South Africa would’ve probably be much more tragic. An interesting factoid is that Nelson Mandela’s full name is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and rolihlahla colloquially means “troublemaker”.
To reach Robben Island, you need to take a boat from V&A Waterfront and of course have tickets. We bought our tickets online and they also go fast, so especially during summer you really need to plan ahead. We woke up to a really heavy rain, but as this was our last day and we’ve already bought our tickets, we were going no matter what. Our hotel offered a shuttle to V&A Waterfront and as we were the only passengers, the driver kindly dropped us as close to the entrance as he could. Luckily the rain stopped while we were standing in line for security check and when we got on the boat it wasn’t raining anymore. The weather stayed cloudy and chilly, but at least it wasn’t raining.
We took the boat to the Island, where we were divided into several groups. It was very disorganized, which was odd as they have a lot of tourists there every day, so I’d assume that they have very clear systems how to handle things. There are two parts to the visit. One is the bus tour of the island with a guide and the second is the tour of the prison with a guide, who was a former political prisoner on the island.
So first we ended up taking the bus tour around the island, which in addition to being a prison and a labor camp, apparently also is a nice spot for birdwatching. The beauty of the island is of course a stark contrast to its use as a prison.
When we returned from the bus tour, we hung around for some 20 minutes without knowing what to do until a new guide appeared from somewhere and took us on the guided tour around the prison. I don’t know how it must feel to work every day in a place where you were imprisoned and answer questions.
The visit was thought-provoking. I never cease to marvel at the cruelty people are capable of, but also at the resilience and belief in the cause they were imprisoned for supporting.
This visit takes about four hours, so we got back to the hotel after 4 p.m. We had a reservation for the evening at La Mouette for my birthday dinner. I really wanted to go to The Test Kitchen or to Greenhouse, but unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough and they were fully booked. But we had a really nice dinner at La Mouette celebrating both my birthday and our last night in Cape Town. We had a really great dinner with South African wines and I especially loved the inventive dessert.