Robben Island of South Africa

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Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km long north-south, and 1.9 km wide, with an area of 5.07 sq km. 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.

Robben Island of South Africa
Robben Island of South Africa

Robben Island is internationally known for the fact that Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Kgalema Motlanthe, who also served as President of South Africa, spent 10 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, as did the current President of South Africa Jacob Zuma.

Robben Island of South Africa
Robben Island of South Africa

Since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used for the isolation of mainly political prisoners. The Dutch settlers were the first to use Robben Island as a prison. Its first prisoner was probably Harry die strandloper (Autshumao) in the mid-17th century. Among its early permanent inhabitants were political leaders from various Dutch colonies, including Indonesia, and the leader of the mutiny on the slave ship Meermin.

Robben Island of South Africa
Robben Island of South Africa

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

Robben Island of South Africa
Robben Island of South Africa

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 settlers released rabbits on the island to provide a ready source of meat for passing ships. The original colony of African Penguins on the island was completely exterminated by 1800. However the modern day island is once again an important breeding area for the species after a new colony established itself there in 1983.

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