Robben Island (Seal Island), located 11km off the coast from Mouille Point, is clearly visible from the shores of Table Bay. The island gained notoriety as a political prison, where those who fell foul of past South African governments were incarcerated. The most famous prisoner held on the island was Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa from 1994 until 1999.
The infamous island has however also been a prison for other prominent South African leaders. The Xhosa prophet Makhanda, who in the early 19th century lead his followers in a "holy" war against the British colonists, was imprisoned there in 1819, until his death from drowning when his boat capsized while he was trying to escape.
The sad history of the place has included time as a lunatic asylum, a leper colony and as a dumping place for the chronically sick and otherwise unwanted members of society.
Today Robben Island is an altogether different place with a more pleasant image. In 1999 it was declared a World Heritage Site as well as being a South African National Monument and Museum. The island supports a small population who live in the tiny village, centrepiece of which is the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Other attractions on the island are the prison buildings, now open to a limited number of visitors, and the lighthouse, built in 1864, and still in daily operation.
Visiting The Island
A limited number of visitors are permitted on the island every day, tours are guided and members of the public are not allowed to wander freely about the island. Tours last approximately 3 to 4 hours and depart from Quay 5 at the V&A Waterfront. Contact the embarkation office for departure times and tariffs on 021 419 1300.