The Noels in SA and Namibia 2018 travel blog


Today's Itinerary

Enjoy a day of leisure and choose from a variety of optional activities including a visit to Table Mountain or a Stellenbosch wine tour. There is something for everyone in Cape Town. Visit Table Mountain, walk the V&A Waterfront or embark on a wine tour in and around Stellenbosch. For the adventurous, opt to go skydiving, abseiling, or, if you're really brave, cage diving for a close encounter with a great white shark. Wander through the city centre, which has some of the oldest buildings and gardens in South Africa. Check out the Cultural Historical Museum, Planetarium, and many other museums and theatres.

Robben Island

We had our breakfast and headed off by cab to the V&A waterfront Nelson Mandela Gateway to catch our ferry to Robben Island at 9 am. Robbin Islnd is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The ferry ride was 1/2 hour long and Rick was adequately medicated with Gravol (haha). Yes there are many stories of our Rick and sea sickness. Once we got to the island there were many buses continually loading up passengers for the mandatory 45 minute bus ride around the grounds. The bus ride is very uncomfortable. Tourists are jam packed into the bus and subjected to a live commentary with various stops. You can try but really can't see or really take photos of these stops because of the crowding on the bus. Dias discovered the island in 1488 when he landed in South Africa. Robben island is is574 hectares in size and 12 km wide. In 1652 Robben island was a station for ships to exchange mail and replenish supplies of fresh water and meat. Sheep and cattle grazed on the land and wildlife was plentiful (penguins, birds, tortoises, antelope). However, in 1671 Robben island became a place of incarceration by the Dutch. Convicted criminals and undesirables were banished to the Cape from Dutch colonies. Furthermore Royalty and leaders from other countries under Dutch rule were sent to the island. When the British took over the Cape, they continued the practice of incarceration on the island. In 1806 the British created a whaling station on the island which had to be shut down 14 years later because convicts were escaping via the whaling ships. Perhaps the decision to make the penal island a whaling station was a poor one indeed! In 1812 the island became an asylum for mentally ill and then became a a colony for lepers, chronically ill and paupers as well. At that time the penal colony was moved to the mainland where labor was used for government projects such as building roads. By 1845 the island was home to unwanted and unloved - prostitutes with sexual transmitted diseases, alcoholics, people who were too sick or too old and the mentally ill. Conditions at the penal colony were horrid. Clergy and medical staff constantly complained about the conditions. During WWII the island became a military base. Today the island's village houses some 200 staff. Children of residents commute to the mainland 7 km away to go to school. The nearest school is 11 km away.

We saw and heard the following at Robben Island:

1. The Moturu Kramat - built to commemorate Sayed Adbdurahman Moturu (the Prince of Madura) who was one of the Cape's first imams. Moturu was exiled to the island in 1740s and died there in 1754.

2. Leper Graves - 1845 the island was used as a voluntary leper colony. In 1892 the Leprosy Repression act was created and the movement of lepers became restricted. This resulted in a dramatic rise in the leper population at Robben island. Leprosy was believed to be incurable and contagious. When the lepers arrived they were separated out by gender since it was believed leprosy was passed on to children. Despite this 41 children were born to lepers at the colony. INTERESTING! These children were adopted out to mainlanders and the children never saw their parents again. Interesting ... I thought they believed leprosy was passed on to children and there was a Leprosy Repression Act in place and genders were separated???

3. The limestone quarry - Prisoners labored in the quarry for 8 hours per day with picks, shovels, spades and hands. In most cases, there was no use for the limestone and it was really just moved from point A to Point B and back and forth. Guards were told to shoot to kill, no questions. The sun and lime dust was very hard on the eyes ... no flashlights or sunglasses. Once prisoners were released (if...) their eyes would be very damaged. At the quarry political prisoners would exchange views in secret. Sand was the chalkboard. Eventually prisoners arrived illiterate and left with university degrees since late in the evening they would go to classes. Visitation rights? Well the 30 minute visits had to be booked 6 months in advance and often when the visitor arrived they were told the prisoner had been transferred to a hospital at the Cape which was simply not true. During family visits, only family matters were discussed.

4. Political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was arrested for many acts of insurrection in the 1950s and was prosecuted without success in 1956 (Treason Trial). In 1962 he was acquitted for treason but arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country at which time he was sentenced to 5 years at Robben island. In 1963 he was put on trial again with several other ANC members and charged with sabotage, violent conspiracy and treason which eventually led to a sentence of life imprisonment in 1964. He laboured in the limestone quarry for 13 years and with the help of other inmates was able to continue the fight against apartheid. He was allowed very little during his imprisonment - no bed, no plumbing, a 30 minute visitor yearly and every 6 months he was allowed to write and receive 1 letter to/from family. Eventually he was able to write to friends and associates. All letters were censored. He smuggled letters, statements and his 500 page autobiography, reduced into 50 pages by hand through other prisoners. The original autobiography had been buried in a garden and was discovered by a warden for which Mandela and three other prisoners lost their rights for 4 years. Mandela led a movement of disobedience with 1200 other prisoners and eventually conditions were drastically improved as a result. In 1995 there was a reunion of ex political prisoners at which time Nelson Mandela delivered a speech and placed the first rock of many on a rock pile. All of the ex political prisoners followed suit. The rock pile exists today and is a monument of hardship and triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Three political prisoners eventually became presidents of South Africa including Mandela,

5. Passes

6. Buildings on the island

-The Garrison church built in 1841 for nurses and doctors taking care of the lepers

-The lighthouse built in 1863 that is 18 meters tall and still in operation

-All buildings used by the lepers were burnt down except the church

-There were 2 prisons - 1 was a maximum security and another was the medium security

6. Valentine's day on the island - every year on Valentine's there are mass weddings on the island. In 2018 12 couples got married. Of course the subsequent joke was about the life sentence.

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