I was fortunate to visit Robben Island again a couple of days ago, and as always, visitors crowd eagerly around cell #7, Mr Nelson Mandela to take a photo. I usually take the opportunity to learn about a new cell each time, and today I found myself in front of Cell # 18, Mr Tokyo Sexale. Tokyo Sexale was convicted in 1978 and served 12 years of his 18 year sentence, being released in 1990.
On many of our private wine tours, we always take a pause outside the entrance to the Klein Drakenstein prison, Franschhoek.
The majority of visitors think that Mr Mandela was released from Robben Island, but he served the final two years of his sentence at the Klein Drakenstein prison (under house arrest) and it was from here that he was released on February 11, 1990.
It is thanks to Mr Sexale for commissioning this statue from sculptor, Jean Doyle, who structured this remarkable bronze statue based on a photograph of Mr Mandela leaving the prison, giving visitors the idea about what he looked like on that day.
I visit Robben island several times year as I always learn something new on each tour and feel it is a must-see attraction for anyone who has any interest in our political history.
The ferries leave from the Clock Tower side of the Waterfront at 9am, 11am, 1pm (and 3pm in the busy season) and booking in advance on webtickets is essential.
It is advisable to arrive at the Robben Island museum gateway at least 45 minute before your departure time as this will give you a chance to read the mural by departure area about the history of the island and important dates/events in apartheid history. Currently, passport identification is required to be shown on boarding the ferry.
The ferry crossing takes anywhere between 30-50minutes depending on the boat and on arrival you disembark and begin walking up the jetty towards the tour guides and buses.
The Robben island tour is in two halves:
Bus tour around Robben Island
If you are doing the bus tour section first, board one of the buses and you will be welcomed by one of Robben Island tour guides who will share stories about the history of the island, some of the first prisoners dating back to the 17th century and the more recent political prisoners.
The guide will point out churches and heritage buildings on route.
A pause by the area to hear the story of Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan African Congress who spent six years in isolation and no one was permitted to communicate with him
Half way through your bus tour there is a ten minute break to give you the opportunity to take photos, bathroom stop or grab a coffee.
An important pause on the bus tour is at the quarry where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners spent their days working. On a bright sunny day you will notice the glare from the quarry and understand why Nelson Mandela experienced issues with his eyes as prisoners were not provided sun glasses. The pile of stones close to the entrance were laid by all the political prisoners after the closure of the prison
The second half of the tour involves walking through the prison with a former political prisoner who was imprisoned on the island. This is a contributing reason why I like visiting Robben Island several times a year as each time you get to meet a new activist who shares their personal story.
Here in one of the larger, dormitory style cells, a former political prisoner gives us insight into the day-to-day life inside Robben Island prison, their diets, activities and the challenges they faced.
A highlight of the tour is to view Nelson Mandela's cell and visitors crowd around to take their photos, but a walk along the corridor will be a quick reminder that there were many activists who sacrificed their lives for racial equality.
The current price is R340pp which includes everything outlined above. Depending on the availability of a former political prisoner, there is a possibility that one tour guide takes care of the group for both the bus tour and walking tour through the prison. It is essential to book well in advance (in the busy season at least one month), no refunds are given unless they cancel due to bad weather, in which case they automatically refund the credit card used to make the booking.