From Cape Town, we took a day trip to see Robben Island–the island prison where Nelson Mandela (and many others involved in the anti-apartheid struggle) spent a huge chunk of life.
You can find photos of Robben Island all over the Internet, so I wont get all Kodak on y’all. But I do want to say a few things…
Robben Island is a big part of the heritage of the South Africa, and rightfully so. Going to Robben Island would be a big deal for many South Africans, right? Well, our tour group was about 50 people (mostly honkeys), and only one (white) family was from South Africa. Perhaps word has gotten around to potential in-country tourists that a trip to Robben Island is, well, a bit of a let down. Certainly, it is nice to be in such a historical place, but that’s about it–you go to say you went, sadly. The only thing people talk about from their visit to Robben Island is how small the cells are (and they’re really small!) But I can’t help but think that so much more could be done to really engage visitors. Perhaps they need some more corporate money to really jazz things up:
Unquestionably, the highlight of a visit to Robben Island is that you have a former political prisoner as a tour guide for part of your time there. Unfortunately, these guides follow a less than inspiring script. Take this room for example:
What’s the first thing you notice? J-buddy on the wall! We started our time with our former prisoner guide in this room. He did his 5 minute speech…and didn’t even mention Jesus, the most salient thing in the room. When there was a request for questions, I was the only one to raise my hand (I LOVE THE SOUND OF MY OWN VOICE) to ask about Jesus. Turns out Jesus was painted by a bunch of criminal prisoners in the 80s, FYI.
The rest of the tour proceeded similarly, with the guide going from his script. But he had plenty to say when you asked him questions–stuff about political vs. criminal prisoners, the prison economy, and fascinating anecdotes. Unfortunately, basically none of this was in the tour–we got it from asking questions, usually during our times for wandering around various areas of the prison, meaning most of the group missed the answers. I couldn’t help but think how much more interesting the tour would be if some of this material was included. I’d also like to note that at least 80% of the questions for the guide came from Shermans.
Not all was as disappointing. We got to see huge guns from Robben Island’s days as a military installation:
And amazing views of Cape Town:
Boat ride was nice too!