Robben Island and Table Mountain
Dec 17, 2018
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.
For us it would be a big day as we were about to be educated on some major history as well as have the crap scared out of us because of ... heights ... (ok,,, it was I who had the crap scared out of me).
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 Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In Akrikaans it is called Robbeneiland island - seal island). The ferry ride was 40 minutes 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 (which is hard to hear and understand) 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 574 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). The first prisoner on Robben Island was Autshumao, chief of the Gorinhaikonas. In 1659, he was imprisoned with two others for waging war against the Dutch over cattle stolen from the Gorinhaikonas. The three successfully escaped by stealing a row boat and rowing to the mainland. They are the only ones that have ever successfully escaped from Robben Island. In 1671 Robben Island became a place of incarceration by the Dutch. 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. On Christmas day 1819, the Xhosa prophet Makana and 30 others attempted to escape Robben island. The three boats of prisoners capsized and all but 4 people drowned. 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 ... we certainly didn't want children born on the island! 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 again! (Gee, I thought they "believed" leprosy was passed on to children and there was a Leprosy Repression Act in place and genders were separated... these actions of moving the children to the mainland seem contrary to their beliefs at the time).
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. 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 Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.
5. Passes and the Sharpeville Massacre
South Africa had pass laws in place as early as 1797 when Earl MacCartney introduced them to prevent natives from entering the Cape Colony. Truly, the topic of passes is a social and political onion with many layers and I urge you to search information on the topic at your leisure. In a nutshell, the pass laws served to segregate people and limit their movements. Black people had to carry a dompass (dumb pass) at all times. The passbooks included fingerprints, a photograph, the name of the employer, the address of the passbook owner, how long the bearer has been employed, behavioural evaluations from employer, permission to be in a certain region, and the reason for such. If caught without this pass it was a 600 Rand fine (3 months salary) plus 6 months in jail. Lack of information or invalid entries led to arrest and imprisonment. 12 years later, in early 1960 the ANC (African National Congress) and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) called on black communities and members to leave their passes at home on a designated day of protest. On March 19th at a press conference, PAC leader Robert Sobukwe announced the anti-pass campaign for March 21st. On that day the people of Sharpeville were awoken by PAC members urging people to take part in the protest. Roads were impassable and many people participated while others were reduced to riding bikes to work. For the campaign, people were told to gather at the local police stations and surrender themselves. The campaign was intended by the group to be non violent with the goal of flooding the jails and bringing the economy to a stand still. Initially a large group of people reached the police station and were not allowed to pass by the police commander. A large contingent of police officers blockaded the entrance. By 11 o'clock the group was allowed through. The crowd was singing and shouting but then protestors began to stone the policemen. 300 policemen faced 5000 people. One of the policemen on an armoured car panicked and opened fire, other policemen opened fire. The shooting lasted for 2 minutes and 69 people were killed while 180 were seriously injured.
6. Robert Sobukwe
Sobukwe, charged and convicted for incitement (Sharpeville above), was sentenced to 3 years in prison. After serving three years he was interned on Robben Island. A new law allowed for his sentence to be renewed annually (known as the Sobukwe clause). At Robben Island he was kept in solitary confinement and had no contact at all with other prisoners. Despite this he was able to get a degree in economics from the University of London. After 4 years of solitary confinement it was determined he was quite psychologically damaged and so his vocal cords were cut in order for him to be allowed to mingle with the general population of prisoners. Apparently he got very ill and was released to house arrest in Kimberley in 1969, He completed a law degree and started his own practice in Kimberley in 1975. In 1977 he developed lung cancer and was hospitalized. His doctors requested he be allowed to move freely based on humanitarian grounds. This was denied. In 1978 he passed away before his 54th birthday.
7. Buildings on the island
---The Garrison church was built in 1841 for nurses and doctors taking care of the lepers.
---The Church of the Good Shepherd (Leper's church) was built by the lepers on the island in 1895. In 1932 all of the leper buildings were burnt down except this church. This church had no pews because lepers could only lie or stand.
---The lighthouse built in 1863 that is 18 meters tall and still in operation
---There were 2 prisons - 1 was a maximum security and another was the medium security
8. 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? You guessed it - it was about being sentenced to life.
During the last half of the tour we were guided by an ex-political prisoner who walked and talked us through the prison. There is a very good Robben Island Prison tour - Google Arts & Culture on the internet which I urge everyone to watch. The tours are all done by ex-political prisoners.
---Our guide talked about the different types of cell blocks - B section is where most political prisoners were housed, each prisoner in their own cell to prevent conversations. Mandela's cell was 2 x 2 meters. B section was minimal security. The A section was for prisoners sentenced for 3 to 6 months. The C section was for prisoners who broke rules where they were given horrible rations of water, sugar and porridge for 7 to 14 days. The DEFG sections housed 4 prisoners per cell. The G section housed a mix of Namibian prisoners, elderly prisoners and prisoners who had been sentenced to life.
---The Nelson Mandela garden in the courtyard of B section is where Mandela hid his manuscripts for his autobiography called The Long Walk to Freedom. The manuscripts were found which cost him an additional 4 years of incarceration. A copy of the 500 page manuscript was reduced to 50 pages and smuggled out by a prisoner who was freed.
---Prisoners laboured in the quarries. Some had long pants and shoes and others had shorts and no shoes at all. Ophthalmic damage was prevalent from the limestone dust and bright sun.
---For recreation, prisoners played tennis. It was common for tennis balls to be "accidentally" volleyed over from one cell block to another (with messages hidden within the tennis balls). Encoded messages were often passed around in the kitchen as well, even between slices of bread.
---It was common for global media to tour the island and take photographs of conditions at the prison. Of course the media was fed false propaganda. For example, prisoners would be working in the gardens rather than the quarries during media visits wearing long pants, sunglasses, freshly washed etc, etc. There are some interesting photos taken of Mandela during these visits.
---Our guide told us about the starvation strike. Mandela tried to talk the prisoners into eating when the starvation strike extended into 10 days. The prisoners stated they would eat when they were in Cape Town. Many felt that Mandela helped them very little with their plight since conditions did not improve for 6 months after the strike and I believe Mandela was moved to Cape Town at this point. Rick had a brief conversation with our guide and he was adamant that Mandela did absolutely nothing for him.
---The story of the Master key occurred in A section. A prisoner got ahold of the master key and pressed the imprint in a bar of soap. Eventually a key was made and smuggled to the forest. The first key did not work well and had to be redone. At one point the Key Master guard was punished for leaving doors unlocked when in fact he had done no such thing at all ... I'm guessing the prisoners were trying the key again and were in such a rush they were not able to lock the door again.
---Our guide took us to another section where 50 prisoners would be housed in one room. Prisoners could study but this was a privilege that could/would be taken away. They would study after 10 pm each night.
---Prisoners labored for 14 hours each day with no bed, no pillow, blankets or sheets to sleep on. Eventually with a great deal of protest and a Red Cross visit, beds were finally introduced into the cells.
---Blacks were treated very poorly compared to Coloreds or Indians.
---A 6 month sentence would be reevaluated at a hearing and prisoners were not allowed to talk during the hearing.
---There were 4 groups of prisoners with regard to visitors. The A group was allowed visitors.
---All prisoners had to keep their identity documents on them at all times. If found without these documents it was an automatic 7-14 days of sentencing.
We left the island on the poor version of ferries. I'm really not sure how or why that happened but Rick did suffer alot with motion sickness. He did power through this although it sure seemed to be the slow boat to China, oh I mean Cape Town. LOL. It seemed to take an hour at least. Once we got off the ferry we regrouped and tried to find a place to grab a bite to eat. We eventually found a great spot where I had the most decadent chocolate milkshake of my entire life. I'm guessing it was my calorie allotment for the entire day (maybe even week). Oh well, I am on vacation!
In the afternoon we struggled a bit to get a cab to take us to the Table Mountain cable cars. One did not want to get ripped off. Eventually we caught a cab and headed over to Table Mountain. The cable car is insane to be honest and not a great experience for those with fear of heights. The revolving floor allows the cable car (houses 40-50 people) to slowly spin to ensure everyone gets to see the vista, the mountain side, the vista again, then the mountain side again. *Insert vertigo inflicted and vomiting emoji here*. There are a few windows popped out as well so you can get some fresh air (or get silently freaked out because now there really is nothing to stop a passenger from falling out). Table Mtn is 3558 feet above sea level. Often on clear days a layer of clouds will come in and lay over the mountain top. The locals call this the tablecloth. There are many myths regarding the cloth but it is really an orographic cloud formation (clouds that develop in response to the lifting of air by the topography below). The myths you ask? The ancient San claimed it was their mantis god smothering a mountain blaze with his massive animal skin or another myth suggested it was a smoking contest between the devil and Van Hunks (a local pirate). I like the pirate version. It was melting hot up there on Table Mountain but the view was incredible. We were actually above the clouds. On the mountain we saw incredible flowers and our first South African critter ... a Dassie. We ended our visit on the mountain and headed down on the cable car (yuck again) and headed back to our hotel.
In the afternoon we had quite a disaster with mom's ability to get cash from an ATM with her new RBC Avion card. After a phone call to RBC Avion Security we learned, for the first time, that the first transaction using the card can not be a cash advance. Gee - it would have been awesome to know this before we were 15,000 km away from home. Geez. We were told she could still swipe with the card but when we tried that later the transaction was also denied. Throughout the trip Rick and I provided mom with cash from our ATM transactions. I have to laugh, roles have certainly reversed! Now I am giving her an allowance. I remember having an allowance when I was young and now she is on an allowance with me. LOL!
We had dinner at the Tiger' Milk again which proved to be redeeming since the service was great. Afterwards we packed up since we were flying off to JoBerg (Johannesburg) the next morning. It was a very busy day for a free time day I must say! After taking Malarone (day 1 of our antimalarial tablets) we hit the hay!