Former South African President and anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years in the prison at Robben Island on charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. Whilst now inextricably linked with the story of the struggle for democracy in South Africa, a tour of Robben Island - now a museum - gives visitors a fascinating and moving insight into the island's three hundred year history.
Robben Island, situated in Cape Town's Table Bay, was first used as a place of incarceration by Dutch Settlers at the end of the seventeenth century. 'Robben' is the Dutch word for 'seal'; a reference to the many Fur seal colonies that inhabit the bay. Whilst the island has always served the purpose of a prison, especially for political prisoners, it has also at various times been used as a quarantine station, a hospital for leprosy sufferers, an asylum for the insane and, during the Second World War, a coastal defence and training station occupied by the army and the navy.
Robben Island's duty as a prison ended in 1996, and the following year it was declared a National Monument. In 1999 the island was granted UNESCO World Heritage site status. Today Robben Island is both a living museum dedicated to the promotion of equality and human rights, and a poignant testimony to those who fought for democracy.