Not so solitary confinement

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Apr 01, 2011

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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Friday, March 25, 2011

Finally we have reached our last port of call. Tonight is our last on board but tomorrow we set off on our drive to Knysna so no tears from us just yet!

We are up early to watch the sail in to Cape Town (container port!). It is quite grey and cloudy and Table Mountain has a very mucky "tablecloth" atop it, but that soon lifts and it turns into a glorious sunny day.

We had booked ahead on the internet to go to Robben Island so we get the ship's shuttle to the V&A waterfront and head for the clocktower next to which the boat to Robben Island leaves. We are early enough to have a coffee before joining the queue for boarding ready for the 30 minute sail across to the Island.

Robben Island is about 12 kilometres from Cape Town, in the past it has been used as a leper colony and a maximum security prison. During Apartheid it was used to house political prisoners. Today some 200 people still live on the island, mainly ex prisoners. There is a primary school and a small shop but everything has to be brought from the mainland. In 1997 the museum was set up and tours started, it is now a World Heritage site.

Once off the boat we join buses for a tour of part of the island, we pass buildings used in from the 17th century onwards to house soldiers defending Cape Town at various times. Most of the buildings date back to World War 2.

We pass the lime quarry where prisoners worked quarrying stone which was then broken up for use on roads on the island. Many prisoners suffered eye problems from the glare and lung diseases from dust inhalation. In the centre of the quarry was a cairn of rocks from a visit in the late 1990s of past political prisoners including the most famous Nelson Mandela.

We stop to look at the solitary confinement area on which Robert Sobukwe, founder of the Pan African Congress, was housed. He was regarded as so dangerous that he was kept in a compound completely separate from the other prisoners. 

Our next stop was at the Maximum Security block where all the political prisoners were housed. We are shown round by another ex political prisoner who had been jailed there for 5 years. Some of the cells were community cells for up to 30 men, but people like Mandela were kept in solitary cells all the time, in his case 27 years. It was a really interesting visit, well organised and worth the money.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the waterfront before heading back to the ship for our last evening on board!
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