Robben Island


Robben Island

Infobox World Heritage Site
Name = Robben Island


State Party = ZAF
Type = Cultural
Criteria = iii, vi
ID = 916
Region = Africa
Year = 1999
Session = 23rd
Link = http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/916

Robben Island (Afrikaans "Robbeneiland") is an island in Table Bay, some seven kilometres off the coast of the Cape Town bay, South Africa and is located at coord|33.806734|S|18.366222|E|region:ZA_type:isle|display=inline,title. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape and about a kilometre wide. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. The island is composed of Precambrian metamorphic rocks belonging to the Malmesbury Group. It is of particular note as it was here that former South African President and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela and incumbent South African President Kgalema Motlanthe [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7634845.stm] , alongside many other political prisoners, spent decades imprisoned during the apartheid era.

History

Robben Island was first inhabited thousands of years ago by stone age people, at a time when sea levels were considerably lower than they are today and people could walk to it.Fact|date=October 2008 It was then a flat-topped hill. Towards the end of the last ice age, the melting of the ancient ice caps caused sea levels to rise and the land around the island was flooded by the ocean. Since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used to isolate certain people — mainly prisoners — and amongst its first permanent inhabitants were political leaders from various Dutch colonies, including Indonesia. African leader Makanda Nxele was sentenced to life imprisonment on the island in 1819 by the British colonial government after a failed uprising at Grahamstown. [cite book|title=The Mission; or Scenes in Africa|author=Frederick Marryat|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/21555|accessdate=2008-10-10|publisher=Nick Hodson|location=London] He drowned on the shores of Table Bay after escaping the prison. [cite web|url=http://www.bethel.edu/~letnie/AfricanChristianity/SSAXhosa.html|title=Christianity in Africa South of the Sahara: 19th Century Xhosa Christianity|accessdate=2008-10-10|publisher=Bethel University] [cite web|url=http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/people/makana.html|title=Makana+publisher=African National Congress|accessdate=2008-10-10|date=1979|author=Edwin Diale]

From 1836 to 1931 the island was used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. [cite book|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14426|title=London to Ladysmith via Pretoria|author=Winston Churchill|date=1900|publisher=Longmans, Green, and Co.|location=London|accessdate=2008-10-10] During the Second World War, the island was fortified and guns were installed as part of the defences for Cape Town.

The Apartheid Era

Under the apartheid regime, Robben Island became a maximum security prison in 1959, and its character as an island-prison near to a major population centre invites comparisons with Alcatraz. Between 1961 and 1991, over three thousand men were incarcerated here as political prisoners, often for decades, including the distinguished international statesman Nelson Mandela. Prisoner family member visits were restricted to once every six months, for a period of only thirty minutes, in conditions which made even conversation difficult. The only reading material allowed was the Bible. A variety of barbaric impositions were made on prisoners, including breaking rocks and mining lime. In the early 1980s, many prisoners engaged in more active demands for rights, and a 1981 hunger strike reinforced their case and led to some minor improvements in conditions.

Throughout this period, security was very tight and the island off limits to almost all civilians, including fishermen. Before about 1980 almost no-one, even among inhabitants of Cape Town, had set foot on the island. It is not generally known that the use of the island as a prison was greatly inhibited for centuries by a lack of fresh water. The island is arid, with low scrubby vegetation and has no watercourses. Boreholes were drilled in the first half of the 20th century but in due course the fragile water table was invaded by sea water and the bores became useless. Sometime after 1965 a pipeline was laid on the bottom of the ocean from Cape Town.

The particular character of the apartheid era prisoners, and their disciplined morale in the face of considerable difficulties and even abuse, is well attested as being sustained by their commitment to the cause of the struggle for freedom, in particular for the majority black African population. In June 1980 Frederik Willem de Klerk initiated the removal of political prisoners, and most prisoners left by May 1981. The last of the non-political prisoners (who had always been held separately from political prisoners) left the island in 1996, and it became a museum in 1997. Nelson Mandela left to worldwide acclaim on February 11th, 1990.

Maritime peril

Robben Island has been the nemesis of many a ship and its crew. The surf of the open Atlantic Ocean thunders continuously at its margins and any vessel wrecked on the reefs offshore is soon beaten to pieces and disappears. In the latter half of the 1600s a Dutch ship laden with gold coins earmarked for the payment of the salaries of employees of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (now Indonesia) disintegrated on these reefs a short distance off shore, in relatively shallow but very restless waters.Fact|date=October 2008 The gold today would be worth tens of millions of pounds sterling or U.S. dollars. A few coins have washed ashore over the centuries but the treasure itself remains in the ocean. It is protected largely by the almost ceaseless and violent surf.Many other vessels have been wrecked around the isle.

The island today

All the land on the island is owned by the State, with the exception of the island church.

Today the island is a popular tourist destination and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. It is reached by ferry from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town and is open throughout the year, weather permitting, and tours of the island and prison are led by guides who were formerly prisoners there. Robben Island Museum (RIM) operates as a site or living museum.

Robben Island Lighthouse

Jan van Riebeeck first set a navigation aid atop Fire Hill (now Minto Hill), the highest point on the island. Huge bonfires were lit at night to warn VOC ships of the rocks which surround the island. The current Robben Island lighthouse, built on Minto Hill in 1864, [cite book|url=http://books.google.com.au/books?id=_8BBAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA275|title=The Seaman's Guide to the Navigation of the Indian Ocean and China Sea|author=William Henry Rosser, James Frederick Imray|pages=p280|date=1867|accessdate=2008-10-04|publisher=J. Imray & Son] is 18 metres high and was converted to electricity in 1938. It is the only South African lighthouse to utilise a flashing light instead of a revolving light.Fact|date=October 2008 Its light can be seen from 25 kilometres away.Fact|date=October 2008

The Moturu Kramat

The Moturu Kramat, a sacred site for Muslim pilgrimage on Robben Island, was built in 1969 to commemorate Sayed Abdurahman Moturu, the Prince of Madura. Moturu, one of Cape Town's first 'imams', was exiled to the island in the mid 1740s and died there in 1754. Muslim political prisoners would pay homage at the shrine before leaving the island.

Animal life

When the Dutch arrived in the area in 1652, the only large animals on the island were seals and birds, principally penguins. In 1654, the Dutch released rabbits on the island in order to provide a ready source of meat for passing ships. [cite book|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=xzIPAAAAYAAJ|title=History of South Africa Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company [1652 to 1795] : Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company (1652 - 1795)|pages=p442|publisher=Swan Sonnenschein|date=1897|accessdate=2008-10-10|author=George McCall Theal]

In about 1960, or a little before, the warden of the island introduced a few antelope that were native to the coastal dunes nearby and also a few giant tortoises, which were not. The tortoises probably originated in the Galapagos Islands or the Seychelles and came from the zoo on the slopes of Devil's Peak in Cape Town, where they have lived in captivity for at least 150 years. It is not clear whether these animals still exist on the island.

The penguin colony

The penguin colony is a popular attraction.

List of former prisoners held at Robben Island

* Autshumato, one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
* Dennis Brutus, former activist and poet
* Patrick Chamusso, former activist of the ANC
* Laloo Chiba, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
* Eddie Daniels, author and activist
* Jerry Ekandjo, Namibian politician
* Nceba Faku, current Metro Mayor of Port Elizabeth
* Petrus Iilonga, Namibian trade unionist, freedom fighter and politician
* Ahmed Kathrada, former Rivonia Trialist and long-serving prisoner
* Langalibalele, one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
* Mosiuoa Lekota, imprisoned in 1974, current Minister of Defence
* Mac Maharaj, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
* Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader and former President of South Africa
* Chief Maqoma, former chief who died on the island in 1873
* Michael Matsobane, leader of Young African Religious Movement. Sentenced at Bethal in 1979; released by PW Botha in 1987.
* Jeff Masemola, the first prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment in the apartheid era
* Amos Masondo, current Mayor of Johannesburg
* Govan Mbeki, father of former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Govan was sentenced to life in 1963 but was released from Robben Island in 1987 by PW Botha
* Makana,one of the first freedom fighters against colonialism
* Wilton Mkwayi, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
* Murphy Morobe, Soweto Uprising student leader
* Sayed Adurohman Moturu, the Muslim Iman who was exiled on the island and died there in 1754
* Griffiths Mxenge, a South African Lawyer and member of the African National Congress
* M.D. Naidoo, a South African lawyer and member of the African National Congress
* John Nkosi Serving life but released by PW Botha in 1987
* Nongqawuse, the Xhosa prophet responsible for the Cattle Killing
* Maqana Nxele, former Xhosa prophet who drowned while trying to escape
* John Nyathi Pokela, co-founder and former chairman of the PAC
* Joe Seremane, current chairperson of the Democratic Alliance.
* Tokyo Sexwale, businessman and aspirant leader of the African National Congress
* Walter Sisulu, former ANC struggle hero
* Robert Sobukwe, former leader of the PAC
* Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Namibian politician
* Jacob Zuma, former Deputy President of South Africa and leader of the ANC

External links

* [http://www.ddc.co.za/clients/tom/robben/index.html Time line]
* [http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2001/0106141045a1001.htm UWC Mayibuye Robben Island Archives]
* [http://www.robben-island.info Documentary about Apartheid and Robben Island]
* [http://www.robben-island.org.za/ Robben Island Museum]
* [http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=-33.806734,18.366222&spn=0.044520,0.060094&t=k&hl=en Google satellite map of the island]
* [http://www.dispatch.co.za/2005/02/23/Easterncape/egrave.html Chief Maqoma imprisoned on island]
* [http://www.joburg.org.za/march2002/building.stm The Robben Island of Johannesburg] , Constitution Hill
* [http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/people/lives-of-courage/pages/wall/prisoners/robbenisland/prisoner_robben_A-C.html Comprehensive list of prisoners held at Robben Island Prison during apartheid]
* [http://www.news24.com/News24/South_Africa/News/0,,2-7-1442_2289102,00.html News 24 article, "Robben Island "a lonely place", The once notorious Robben Island penal colony risks ghost town status as residents start leaving." March 17, 2008]
* [http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/people/makana.html, A background to Makana] ,

World Heritage Sites in South Africa


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  • Robben Island — Rọbben Island   [ aɪlənd], kleine Insel nordwestlich von Kapstadt, Republik Südafrika, 9 km vor der Küste der Tafelbucht, 3 km lang, 1,2 km breit, bis 35 m über dem Meeresspiegel; diente seit 1658 als Gefängnis; u. a. war hier 1964 82 N. Mandela …   Universal-Lexikon

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