site zip: AF ZA CPT 0154 | neighborhood: Cape Town, Cape Winelands, Cape Country Routes | region: South Africa
Kistenbosch National Botanica Garden. Attribution (center image): D. Didier


Nelson Mandela's Former Prison Island for 18 Years

On 12 June 1964, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment together with seven other members of the banned African National Congress.  They had been charged and found guilty of  acts of sabotage conceived to overthrow South Africa's apartheid system. Commencing that same winter of 1964, Mandiba (Nelson Mandela’s clan name) would spend 18 years on Robben Island in Cape Town's Table Bay, committed to a small cell and to hard labor, prior to being transferred to Pollsmoor and ultimately Victor Verster prisons on the mainland.

From 1498 until 1996, Robben Island had served variously as a pantry for mariners rounding the Cape, a quarantine station and a prison for military, criminal or political prisoners.

Today, South Africa's notorious Robben Island is a World Heritage Site and museum -- a poignant symbol of the struggle against Apartheid on the long road to Democracy.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island
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Tours to Robben Island

Tour ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island (at the Clock Tower, Cape Town's V&A Waterfront), weather permitting. The trip across Table Bay to Robben island takes approximately 30 minutes. Read more: Robben Island Ferries and Tour and Robben Island Museum.

Robben Island - Nelson Mandela's cell and lime quarryLeft: Nelson Mandela's Prison Cell       Right: The Limestone Quarry [Photos by Tyler Northrup]

At time of writing, the Robben Island Tour is inclusive of the round trip ferry and the tour to the museum shop, Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, prison exercise yard and bus tour of points of interest on the island including the infamous limestone quarry.

The limestone quarry was ground zero for the prisoners serving out their sentences of hard labor. Conditions were harsh, especially the blinding glare within the limestone quarry and the inescapable inhalation of rock dust. Prisoners labored to manually pound the rocks into fragments for road gravel or simply to transfer rocks and gravel from one side of the quarry to the other. A small cave in the limestone cliff afforded the only shelter from the elements.

Some time after the fall of apartheid in South Africa and the release of the political prisoners, a reunion visit was arranged back to Robben Island. When visiting the quarry, Nelson Mandela placed a stone in the center of the quarry and each former prisoner followed suit. The cairn of stones remains -- an impromptu memorial to 18 years of hard labor on Robben Island.

Hop On - Hop Off Bus Hop On - Hop Off Bus

Getting Around

Ride the open-top bus for an easy and safe way to get around Cape Town's major attractions, including the V&A Waterfront to connect with Robben Island Tour departures.

Cape Town Attractions

| Highlights of Cape Town | Bo-Kaap | Cape Town and Peninsula Beaches |
| Camps Bay | Clifton Beaches | Cape Peninsula Attractions | Castle of Good Hope |
| Groot Constantia Wine Estate | Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens |Robben Island |
| Table Mountain | V&A Waterfront | Winelands and Wine Routes |

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