Has the Robben Island Museum been left in ruins?
After recent reports of the neglected condition of the Robben Island Museum, Eyewitness News visited the World Heritage site to see for itself.
FILE: A view of a guard tower and Table Mountain behind some of the old buildings at Robben Island Prison. Photo: RODGER BOSCH / AFP
CAPE TOWN – In recent weeks there has been a controversy surrounding the Robben Island Museum and its seemingly neglected condition.
Having been used as a maximum security prison for political prisoners during the apartheid era, Unesco declared Robben Island a World Heritage Site in 1999.
Following recent media reports, the Association of Former Political Prisoners (EPPA) and the Western Cape Democratic Alliance (DA) have weighed in on the issue, highlighting their concerns about the degradation and deterioration of assets on the island.
The EPPA even called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene and carry out a control visit.
In a recent interview on CapeTalkThe association’s Mpho Masemola said those appointed to look after the island’s assets had let them down.
He said the association had received a number of complaints from visitors and former political prisoners concerned about the degradation of structures on the island.
However, Robben Island’s Siphuxolo Mazwi pointed out that the account that its buildings were in ruins and decay was completely devoid of truth.
Eyewitness News Journalist Lauren Isaacs recently visited the island and shares her experience of the excursion.
The day I visited Robben Island, the catamaran passenger ferry Krotoa, was out of service and we were transported to the island on a chartered blue and yellow ferry called Madiba 1.
With a capacity of 200 passengers, the boat was almost full but masked visitors were sure to practice social distancing.
The ferry was clean, comfortable and modern, and fitted with air conditioners and televisions that showed video of the city’s must-see destinations – from the wine farms in Franschoek to the best surf spots in Llandudno.
Although I am severely prone to motion sickness it was a pleasant 20 minute boat ride and once we got to the island the guides were already waiting to greet visitors and show us our buses for the tour.
Outside the grounds looked clean and tidy and there were plenty of trash cans and do not litter notices. The original wooden poles used by prisoners who played football are still standing today.
Outside the prison buildings, the original marks created by a chisel and hammer can still be seen. The prisoners had to use these tools to cut stones in order to build the prison.
After spending seven years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, Sparks Mlilwana has been a guide there since 2003.
We spotted animals like steenbok, penguins, and turtles.
Inside, the prison buildings and yards were immaculate. The polished floors shined and all exhibits and relics were placed neatly and neatly. Several new exhibitions were being installed.
Stalls with bottles of pink hand sanitizer were located in every section of the prison.
Cleaning staff, armed with brooms, mops and other cleaning supplies, could also be seen working on the premises.
The white and blue paint seemed to be peeling off some of the walls and ceilings inside the prison, and later, towards the end of the tour, we were taken to World War II relics, including the doors and doors. window coverings were rusted from the salty sea air.
I attributed this to showing the age and authenticity of the World Heritage site – instead of poor maintenance.
In all fairness, I have only visited the island once before, on a field trip to primary school. But judging by recent accounts of the supposed state of the Robben Island museum, I expected to see it in much worse condition.
Towards the end of the tour, we passed the homes of the islanders, the John Craig Hall built in 1943, the Garrison School and Church erected in 1841 where couples meet to get married on Mother’s Day. Valentine’s Day every year.
Again, what I saw did not particularly shock me.
The highlight of my visit was that my guide was a former political prisoner and could share his firsthand account of life on the island. It made for an interesting, captivating and moving experience.
Much like the visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell – with his blankets folded tightly on the floor on the right side, a bucket he used to relieve himself in the left corner, and a small green table with his stainless steel bowl and mug. in the center.
On the way back to Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront, I chatted with some people to hear their observations on Robben Island and the tour.
A teenage girl said the one thing she didn’t particularly like was that the tour group members didn’t have enough time to ask questions.
A woman, on vacation in Pretoria, said she found the tour educational. She said she had a pleasant experience and found the island clean. However, she had hoped that there would be more original relics in Nelson Mandela’s cell, like his shoes and clothes.
A visitor from Kenya said she was happy to finally be able to put the Robben Island Museum visit on her wishlist.
“I’ve always wanted to come here. I thought the guide did a great job, but I had a lot more questions. I think we should have had more time for that and maybe also had the opportunity to meet more. ex-prisoners.
“The Robben Island Museum looked newer or more renovated than I had imagined … very clean and painted. I honestly thought it would be more run down, I expected it to look older, ”she says.
While Africa Day is celebrated on May 25, the Robben Island Museum celebrates all month, with discounts on group tickets of up to 25%.
Mazwi said he was happy to see an increase in the number of young people visiting the island and encouraged youth groups, civic organizations and social clubs to take advantage of reduced group ticket prices.
Mazwi said that while group visits were encouraged, strict COVID-19 protocols remained in place both on the ferry and on the island, with COVID commissioners constantly monitoring the situation.
Visitors are also encouraged to purchase their tickets online, via Webtickets, to avoid queues.
The ferry operates Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am.
The regular price for local tickets is R400 per adult and R210 for children under 18.