Before going to Robben Island, we had the great opportunity to meet a political activist who had been in exile for part of apartheid. It was amazing to hear firsthand about the movement from someone who was clearly so passionate and connected to the movement. He set the historical context for us to understand the pre and post apartheid South Africa. Robben Island to him was the model South African society, which mainland South Africa aspired to. Listening to this, before going to Robben Island helped us understand the context of things, and engage more with what we saw.
To get to Robben Island we had to take a ferry. The landscape from the ferry was absolutely beautiful, and a couple of us could not help but sit on the outside and watch the waves crush against each other. Something you never get used to in Cape Town is the mountains. Regardless of where you are in the city, there will always be scenic mountains peaking through the clouds. At some point, you have to stop yourself from taking pictures otherwise these could absolutely take up all your phone memory.
The ferry ride was about half an hour. We luckily had our own bus that took us first to the prison, where we got to see and take pictures in the cell where Nelson Mandela resided. Pretty much no one knew how to pose for a picture in the cell. It was only after one of the trip coordinators, Jonathan, hilariously locked someone in the cell getting a great behind-bars shot, that we all continued the trend. It was a tiny cell, but it held so much significance it was one of things I had been most excited to see in Robben Island.
The tour guide was an ex prisoner and so he described a lot about life and the transnational cooperation to acquire livable conditions for prisoners. After this, we got to see the isolated cell where Robert Sobukwe, another prominent figure within the apartheid movement, was forced to live. Because he spoke so many of the 11 national languages, he had to be in isolation because the government feared he would be too influential and threatening. Here, there were letters for his family because they were only allowed to see him for a limited amount of time per year.