In 1997 Robben Island became a museum and a heritage site. Acting as a focal point of South African heritage the museum is a dynamic institution. It runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to the Island and fulfils an archiving function.
Before the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland became covered with water people lived on Robben Island but after the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, the island was used primarily as a prison.
Robben Island has, however, not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for people with leprosy, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931). In the 1840s, Robben Island was chosen for a hospital because it was regarded as both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure). There was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s. During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on the Island.
More recently, indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British soldiers and civilians, women, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned on the Island.
World Heritage Status
Robben Island is both a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Contact detailsNelson Mandela Gateway
P O Box 51806
Cape Town 8002
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