Robben Island Dr Dawn Gould

Robben is the Dutch/Afrikaans word for seals. The island is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

As the determined Portuguese sailors managed to round the Cape attempting to reach the East Indies, they must have seen the small island appearing to guard Table Bay.   At times when attempts failed to obtain fresh meat from the Khoi on the mainland, penguins, seals, various birds on the Island were an alternative.

The Europeans very quickly realized the value of rounding the Cape of Good Hope resulting in more and more ships appearing in Table Bay to take on food for a long journey.  The Dutch had claimed the Cape and were given orders from Holland to begin growing vegetables and fruits.  Sailors were suffering from scurvy and the fresh food it was hoped, would be an improvement of their health.

But what was the future of Robben Island itself? The Dutch and later the English governors turned it into a prison – a prison for local and individuals from the Eastern Indies who disagreed with the rulers then in charge of government. In 1846 the Island received  a General Infirmary for three different forms of illness but the different forms closed down first in 1891, then in 1921 and finally in 1931. 

After 1914 the various parts of the country had been recognized as one country – South Africa with new deciders in charge of government. As the second world war began in 1930 men were sent to guard the entrance to Table Bay. After the war was over in 1945, a Coastal Artillery School worked there until 1946. The South African Marine Corps took over between 1951 to 1955 and after them the South African Navy.  From 1961 to 1991 the island became a maximum security prison but it was becoming obvious that politics were changing in South Africa.  Political discussions went on until the day came when Nelson Mandela accepted and stepped forth as the new President of South Africa. 

 Today Robben Island is an interesting and attractive place to visit.  From the city Nelson Mandela gateway visitors step onto a boat and sail for the Island.