Trip Logs | Where we’ve been: Robben Island

When considering things to do or see in South Africa, a visit to Robben Island is something that always makes the list. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, was historically used as a prison island. It housed many political prisoners during South Africa’s apartheid era, most notably, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. With this rich heritage, One Love Travel Club had to pay a visit. Journeying to Robben Island set the necessary historical context for the trip.

I think a lot of times when we discuss the history of race relation, we tend to feel detached from the most pivotal events. It’s almost like they occurred in a fictional story.

The reality is apartheid in South Africa ended in the early 1990’s. You may not be directly confronted with racism as a tourist, in fact you most likely won’t even experience it! But knowing how recently these events occurred, you have to wonder if there are underlying issues that are still unresolved. Many of us remember the 90’s. Our South African peers, the people that we interacted with, not only remembered this era, but they experienced the stark reality of apartheid. Hopefully that puts Robben Island into perspective — it’s a facility whose halls recently echoed with the voices of people who passionately carried on the fight for equal rights in their country.

We started our private tour of the island on a coach bus, stopping by many historical landmarks. We then made our way to the actual prison and toured inside, visiting the cell that housed Nelson Mandela for 18 years, and gaining a deeper understanding of what life was like for “Blacks” and “Coloureds” who were imprisoned there. Our guide for this portion was an ex-prisoner, which in itself was a surreal encounter. He also favored my grandfather, which brought me to such an emotional state each time he described his experience.

At first it seemed strange that the ex-prisoners of the island chose to make that ferry ride every day to lead these tours. But as our guide described to us, he wanted to tell his story, from his perspective. And honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.