Robben Island has important places of commemoration that include the built fabric, routes and paths, gardens, views and vistas. It has within it many and varied layers of history that are at times contested. Furthermore, it is an island of many voices, including that of the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the sick, the privileged few, the religious, the imprisoned and the free. Its conservation, therefore, poses unique challenges.
Robben Island Museum (RIM) is a public entity responsible for managing, maintaining, presenting, developing and marketing Robben Island as a national estate and World Heritage Site. It was established by the Department of Arts and Culture in 1997.
RIM implements a wide range of conservation, educational, tourist development, research, archiving and general heritage programmes that are designed to achieve its mandate; conserve the Island’s natural and cultural resources and heritage; and promote it as a platform for critical debate and life-long learning.
RIM is also responsible for managing and maintaining the assets of the Island. These include the Maximum and Medium Security Prison Complexes, Robert Sobukwe’s House, the Curio and Village Shops, the Village Precinct and associated recreational facilities, the Helipad and runway on the Island, World War 2 memorials, power generation and water processing plants, Jetty 1 and the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront, the Mayibuye Archives, the three (3) ferries that transport people to the Island and the fleet of buses used by tourists on the Island.
Contact Robben Island Tours
T +27 (0)21 413 4200
ROBBEN ISLAND NATURAL CONSERVATION
BIRDLIFE ON THE ISLAND
The Island provides shelter and a safe haven for about 132 species of birds including some endangered species.
The variety of species includes sea birds, water birds and terrestrial birds. The Chauker Partridge and Guinea Fowl were introduced to the Island by humans. Many of the birds use the Island for breeding and roosting. Some birds from the mainland such as the Crowned Cormorant and Black Crowned Night Herons breed on the Island in large colonies.
The flora and fauna of the Island were affected by farming practices of the past and also the introduction of extensive plantations of shrubs and exotic trees.
The spectacular veld flowers typical of the West Coast also occur on the Island during spring.
MARINE AND WILDLIFE
The boat trip to the Island provides an opportunity to see a wide spectrum of seabirds and mammals including Cape Fur Seals, Southern Right Whales, Dusky and Heaviside Dolphins.
On the Island, there are about 23 species of mammals such as Bontebok, Springbok, Steenbok, Fallow Deer and Eland. Ostriches, Lizards, Geckos, Snakes and three species of Tortoises can also be found on the Island.
GEOLOGY ON THE ISLAND
The Island is the summit of an ancient, now submerged mountain. It is linked by an undersea saddle to Blouberg. Its lower strata consist of Malmesbury shale forming a rocky and somewhat inhospitable coastline. Above this lies a thick limestone and calcrete deposit covered by windblown sands and shell fragments.
The Island is low-lying with the highest point also known as Minto’s Hill (named after the 19th-century Surgeon-Superintendent of the General Infirmary) being 24 metres above sea-level. The Island favours a Mediterranean climate, but unlike nearby Cape Town, it experiences stronger winds and comparative extremes in temperature.
WORLD HERITAGE STATUS
Robben Island was declared as a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 1999 under criteria (iii) and (vi) of the ‘World Heritage Convention’s Operational Guidelines’.
Criterion (iii) requires that a site bears unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has disappeared.
Criterion (vi) requires that sites should be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
The justification for inscription, as set out in the ‘Nomination Dossier’, captured the significance of the Island based on its long and layered history that has resulted in both the tangible (built fabric) as well as the rich intangible heritage (memories). It reads:
The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent testimony to its sombre history… Robben Island and its prison buildings symbolise the triumph of the human spirit of freedom and of democracy over oppression. – ‘Nomination Dossier’ 1999
UWC-ROBBEN ISLAND MAYIBUYE ARCHIVES
Most of Robben Island’s rich archival resources are housed at the Mayibuye Archives at the University of Western Cape. Mayibuye’s collections include artefacts, historical documents, photographs, artwork and audiovisual materials relating to the struggle for freedom and democracy; Robben Island; imprisonment under apartheid and South African culture making it one of the largest archives in the country that contains liberation struggle material.
ORAL HISTORY AND SOUND ARCHIVE
These include recordings of interviews with ex-political prisoners, former exiles and political activists; Radio Freedom broadcasts; unique recordings of speeches and lectures; and historical papers archive.
The historical papers section includes more than 350 collections of personal and organizational records of major political events and turning points that culminated in the unbanning of political organizations in the 1990s. The Robben Island Political Prisoner’s General Recreation Committee records is also a collection of particular significance. It dates back to the 1960s and serves as a wonderful testimony to the creative capacity of the human spirit to survive great hardship.
These contains about 30 000 negatives, 70 000 prints and 4 000 transparencies of images that document life under, and resistance to Apartheid rule from the late 1940s until 1990. Subjects include the history of colonialism, the history of apartheid, images of apartheid, liberation movements, forced removals and resettlements, repression, political prisoners, trials, labour and trade unions, women, culture, education and the armed struggle. Important collections within this archive are the IDAF, Billy Paddock, South and Grassroots Collections. The images of two prominent photographers’ work represented in the collection are those of Eli Weinberg and Leon Levson.
FILMS AND VIDEO ARCHIVE
These archives contain audio recordings, film and video. It houses footage of about 1 000 documentary productions and 6 000 unedited recordings.
The Audio collection includes interviews with exiles, political prisoners and the Radio Freedom collection. The film and video recordings include hundreds of hours of news footage, production rushes and stock footage from more than 200 film and video production projects. The core of the collection came from IDAF. Most of these films and videos were banned in South Africa prior to 1990.
ARTEFACTS, ART, POSTERS AND BANNERS
The collection includes artefacts that were used as forms of political protest during the anti-apartheid struggle. These include T-shirts, stickers, badges and jewellery, among other items. Ex-political prisoners from Robben Island also donated some personal items used by them during their imprisonment on the Island.
The art collection includes paintings, lithographs, etchings and sculptures that were acquired by UWC and the Mayibuye Archive over time. The art collection primarily serves as a visual record of resistance to the apartheid system and thus all of the works precede 1994.
RIM HISTORICAL ARTEFACTS
This collection includes more than 3 000 accessioned objects left on Robben Island by prison authorities. It includes prison clothing, items manufactured in the prison workshop, workshop tools, prison registers, a music collection of LP records, sporting equipment and furniture.
Due to the harsh environmental conditions prevalent on the Island, this collection was moved from the Island to Mayibuye to better preserve it.
Robben Island Tours
General tours to Robben Island depart at the following times Monday to Sunday:
(Weather and demand Permitting)
Contact Robben Island Tours
T +27 (0)21 413 4200
THE TOUR EXPERIENCE
Currently; RIM has tours that run as follows; 09h00, 11h00, 13h00 and 15h00. The ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront. The tour takes 3.5 hours including the ferry trip to and from the Island (Depending on the boat used as they have different travel times).
You will disembark at Murray’s Bay Harbour situated on the east coast of the Island and take a short walk to buses that will transport you to all the historical sites around the Island. On the way to the buses, you will pass buildings and a high wall built by prisoners during the 1960s. The buildings were used for family and lawyer visits to prisoners.
You will meet your Tour Guide when you have boarded the busses. The prison tour will be conducted by a Robben Island Tour Guide. This is part of our integrated tour model. They are fully conversant and knowledgeable about the Island’s multi-layered 500-year-old history. The tour route includes the graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.
The Robben Island Museum Tour has a dedicated Education Department.
Among its many activities is the facilitation of subsidised school tours.
These tours are from Monday to Friday during the concession period (2 May to 31 October) but can change at the discretion of management. Visitors are transported to the Island via Ferries which depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront. Learners may be transported on ferries that are part of the general tours, and at the times of those ferries or a dedicated ferry departing at a specific alternate time may be arranged.
This tour targets learners in primary and secondary schools from across the country. It is designed to educate, inform and expose young people to elements of South Africa’s rich heritage that is embodied in Robben Island’s multi-layered history. The tour provides information and experiences of the Island that are more in-depth than the general visitor tour and focuses on inculcating an understanding of and commitment to human rights and development.
The learners also get to visit all the various heritage sites that reflect the Island’s longstanding multi-layered history, such as the graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.
The tours are implemented in partnership with individual schools as and when requested.
Educational Tours Contact Details:
T +27 (0)21 409 5146
School Concessions Contact Details:
T +27 (0)21 413 4201
Specialized Tours include Private Tours, VIP Tours and Protocol Tours. Private tours are for individuals or small groups.
VIP Tours are for ‘famous’ personalities. Protocol Tours are for Heads of State.
These tours can be arranged for any day of the week. The duration of these tours ranges from 3.5 hours to about 8 hours. Visitors are transported to the Island via Ferries which depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V & A Waterfront. Groups may be transported on ferries that are part of the general tours and at the times of those ferries. Alternatively, a dedicated ferry departing at a specific alternate time may be arranged. Flights are used for some of the tours such as the Protocol Tours.
These tours include all the various heritage sites that reflect the Island’s longstanding multi-layered history, such as the graveyard of people who died from leprosy, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.
Special Tours And Events Contact Details:
ROBBEN ISLAND FERRIES
Robben Island Museum uses two of its own ferries which transport visitors and staff to the island, along with several private vessels if, and when, they are required.
Robben Island ferry Susan Kruger named after the wife of once Minister of Justice Jimmy Kruger who served in the National Party Government during the Apartheid years.
This vessel was used to transport staff and political prisoners between the mainland and Robben Island when the prison was still functioning. It is now in service as a ferry for the island.
This ferry was also used to transport staff and political prisoners between the mainland and Robben Island.