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Published: December 28th 2020
We arose fairly early in preparation for our visit to Robben island which was the incarceration centre for some 20 years of all the ANC and PAC freedom fighters including Nelson Mandela. First though, D took a photo from our cabin window across the bow of a French warship which gave us a direct view of Tafelberg. Had we been in a hotel, this view would probably have cost serious money.
We went off on our Robben Island (Afrikaans: Robbeneiland) trip at 9.30 am and we were walked round to the Nelson Mandela Centre and given tickets for the 1.00 pm sailing. These showed that the actual price, had we gone under our own steam, was less than a third what we charged for doing the tour and given there was little by way of value added - we were walked 10 minutes to the terminal, the location of which we knew anyway - it was a right rip-off. Robbeneiland takes its name from the Dutch word for seals (robben). Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 kilometres (2.1 miles) long north-south, and 1.9 kilometres (1.2 miles) wide, with an area of 5.08 square kilometres (1.96 square miles). It
is flat and only a few metres above sea level. It was fortified and used as a prison from the late 17th century to 1996,
We had a reasonably pleasant 50 minutes sailing to the island which had served in a variety of isolationist guises before its usage as a high security prison, including being a leper colony. We were given a tour for just over an hour round the island and shown various historical buildings and the quarry where the prisoners were sent to do daily hard labour before being dropped off to do the actual prison tour with a second guide. Both of these guides were former political prisoners. The prison regime was harsh, but this may have been expected and we were assured that the current decor was as it was in the 70's and 80's. In fact the surroundings and the outside of the buildings were harsher than the insides. All the cells were painted in gloss paint and boredom must have been a major issue. Those held in the communal cells - there were four we recall, each held 40 inmates. However they were subjected to discrimination. First, no white prisoners were ever sent
to Robben Island - even when their convictions were for the same offence. Secondly, the extremely meagre rations were better for the coloureds than the blacks. They were fed in their large communal cells and had internal toilet and washing facilities. Those assessed as needing to be held in individual cells including Mandela were not so lucky. Their accommodation comprised a single unit, about 8 feet x 6 feet sparsely furnished with no facilities. By all accounts the climate conditions also rendered all this worse. After out tour we went back to the boat, but as usual with tours from the ship were 25 minutes late whilst fellow guests minced around the gift shop. The upshot of this late start and the 50 minute trip back was that despite our dashing back quickly to MSVG we had missed lunch!
We were scheduled to leave at 3.00 pm but at about 3.30 pm there was an intercom announcement that we were not leaving until 8.00 pm (it was actually 9.45 pm by the time we actually did depart) which was good news for M. One of the few sites we had missed in Cape Town that she had wanted to
see was the botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch - around the back of Tafelberg - which has an international reputation. We raced back round towards the Mandela Centre and took a taxi there straightaway. Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens also called The National Botanic Gardens of South Africa, is one of the world’s largest botanical gardens, occupying a 1,305 acre (528 hectare) site in Kirstenbosch, near Cape Town. The 6,200-species collection consists almost exclusively of Cape plants native to the fynbos (scrubland) and forests of southern Africa. The botanical garden was established in 1913. It includes such beautiful flowering plants as the protea and heather, an enormous number of flowering bulbs, and immense cycads (palmlike tropical plants). Conservatories house plants from all climatic regions. Three herbaria, with a total of about 300,000 specimens, are retained at Kirstenbosch. One of the main objectives of the National Botanical Institute of South Africa is to preserve endangered local plant species. Over the years the institution has acquired property in areas that have numerous specimens of plants that are in danger of becoming extinct. It has set aside eight such sites throughout South Africa as regional gardens or reserves.
We spent two hours wandering, with very
few other people, around the large and idyllic centre, which is located on the lower foothill of the mountain. We saw plenty of flora but there was also a goodly array of birds - including lots of guinea fowl. There was also a sculpture garden as well as a concert venue. We took the taxi back at about 5.45 pm and spent a further hour looking for presents before re-embarking the MSVG.
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