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Visitor Info - Roben island Museum
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Cape town
  • Police (SAPS):  10111 
  • Police (using a mobile phone):  112
  • Ambulance / Fire:  10177
  • National Tourism Information and Safety Line:  083 123 2345 
  • 107 is a single emergency telephone number for use by all people living in and visiting Cape Town. By using this number you can ask for help when life or property is endangered and you will be put in contact with the nearest relevant emergency service provider, such as the ambulance, fire, police or traffic service.
  • Calls from a cellular (wireless/mobile) phone can be made directly to the 107 centre on 021 480 7700 at national rates. Dialing the number 107 from a cell phone will not work.


People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water. Since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island has been used primarily as a prison.

  • Indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British settler soldiers and civilians, women, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned on the Island.
  • Today, however, Robben Island also tells us about victory over Apartheid and other human rights abuses: 'the indestructibility of the spirit of resistance against colonialism, injustice and oppression'. Overcoming opposition from the prison authorities, prisoners on the Island after the 1960s were able to organise sporting events, political debates and educational programmes, and to assert their right to be treated as human beings, with dignity and equality. They were able to help the country establish the foundations of our modern democracy. The image we have of the Island today is as a place of oppression, as well as a place of triumph.
  • Robben Island has not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for leprosy patients, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931). In the 1840s, Robben Island was chosen for a hospital because it was both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure). During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on the Island. As there was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s, Robben Island was a kind of prison for the hospital patients too.
  • Since 1997 it has been a museum. The museum is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. It runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to the Island and fulfils an archiving function.

About the Tours
The Robben Island Museum Tours Department includes some ex-political prisoners who act as tour guides on Cape Town's World Heritage Site.

One such guide is Lionel Davis, who, in April 1964, was sentenced to six years on Robben Island, after being found guilty of conspiring to commit sabotage. Now Lionel lives on the Island with his family and is the chairperson of the Robben Island Village Association.

Today, Lionel speaks evenly of his former jailers and the appalling conditions he had to endure in the early 1960s and 1970s at the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison. Guides such as Lionel bring to life a South African heritage, which speaks to all people of heroic endurance in the face of adversity and the triumph of the human spirit over evil.


School Toursn:
The objective of the school tours programme is to highlight the importance of Robben Island and heritage in present day South Africa.
Our ongoing research has shown that the Robben Island story provides a powerful method of educating youth and children to be critical, creative thinkers. Learners are engendered with a sense of identity as they explore their common, shared and diverse heritage. We believe that this programme plays a critical role in nurturing responsible, young members of civil society who have a keen sense of what a human rights culture entails.

Youth Camps:
Also known as 'nation building camps', organisations and schools are invited to host camps on Robben Island. There are particular themes that get explored during these camps related to nation building such as: racism, xenophobia, education and training, sustainable development, sexism and gangsterism.
For further details please contact Sandra Daniels on (021) 409 5123, fax (021) 411 1931 or

Spring School:
Spring School is an annual event hosted by the Robben Island Museum. The aim of the event is to bring together school pupils, from around the country and neighbouring states for a seven-day working celebration of heritage. Another strong component of the event is its educator and museum educator training programme. It is linked to the Robben Island 'On the Move' project whose objective is to take Robben Island back into the hearts and minds of all South Africans and Africans.
Spring School has been successfully held over the past three years.
The theme for each year varies according the focus of national issues and the Museum.
In 1998, the theme chosen by the learners was from 'From Imprisonment to Freedom'. Learners and educators explored the stories of Robben Island through the ages of its known history.
In 1999, the theme was 'Human Rights Education: lessons from Robben Island'. Learners explored what human rights are, examined human rights violations within their own contexts, and the responsibilities that accompany human rights.
This year and for 2001 the theme is 'Isivivane Iwazi' which has been translated loosely as memorialising knowledge. Spring School 2000 included a site hunt which had the participants identifying sites on old maps and trying to locate ruins, auditing the cultural and natural resources on the island, comparing old and new maps and creating stories and poems.
Participants throughout the three years have been drawn from schools and museums throughout South Africa.
For further details please contact Deidre Prins:
Telephone +27 (0)21 409 5123
Fax +27 (0)21 411 1931
e-mail: deidre@robben-island.org.za

Contact details

  • Telephone:  +27 (0)21 409 5100
  • Fax: +27 (0)21 4111 059
  • Postal address: Robben Island Museum
    Private Bag Robben Island Cape Town   7400
Table Mountain Hiking
The island and the bay of great beauty in which it nestles make Robben island museum ideal as a site museum. It is well placed to participate – even lead – in the broader contemporary worldwide move to transform museums from remote institutions into dynamic spaces of learning, engagement and relevance.
Table Mountain Hiking
Autshumato (also called Autshumao and named Harry or Herry by the Europeans) was a Khoikhoi leader who became an interpreter for Europeans passing by the Cape after 1631 and an intermediary between them and the Khoikhoi once a Dutch settlement was established in 1652.
Table Mountain Hiking

Krotoa (whom the Dutch called Eva) was apparently Autshumato's niece, the daughter of his sister, but it is hard to be sure of the nature of the blood relationship between them as Khoikhoi family terms did not always match those of the Dutch commentators.
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Table Mountain Hiking

Makhanda, also called 'Nxele', or 'Links' meaning 'left-handed' in Xhosa and Afrikaans respectively, was a Xhosa warrior-prophet, who renounced his Christian upbringing and became a strong advocate for Xhosa tradition among the Ndlambe. The Ndlambe (H'lambie) and the Ngqika (Gaika) were sub-groups of the Rharhabe clan of Xhosa, which had been formed by a split within the original Xhosa clan, Gcaleka. (back to top)
Table Mountain Hiking


Several Xhosa chiefs came as prisoners to Robben Island in 1858 after the Cattle Killings of 1856-7. The Cattle Killings were a millenarian Xhosa offensive against encroaching British rule, which nearly destroyed the Xhosa themselves, as cattle were slaughtered and crops not planted. Among those imprisoned on Robben Island was Maqoma. (back to top)
Table Mountain Hiking

Nelson Mandela

Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela (his clan name is Madiba) in 1918 in a small town in the Eastern Province, near Umtata. At the mission school he attended he was given the English name Nelson. He began his BA degree at Fort Hare University. After leaving university just before his final year, he worked as an articled clerk in a Johannesburg law firm and enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand for an LL.B. During this time in Johannesburg he married his first wife, Evelyn, who was to bear three of his surviving children. Her religious and apolitical lifestyle soon began to conflict with his increasingly dedicated work for the ANC and they separated in 1955. A few years later he was to marry a young woman who became just as dedicated to the ANC as he was: Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, or Winnie. (back to top)
Table Mountain Hiking

Robert Sobukwe

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, founding president of the Pan Africanist Congress, was born in Graaff-Reinet in 1924. His Xhosa first name, 'Mangaliso' means 'man of wonders'. As a student, lay preacher and teacher of the 1940s and 1950s, Sobukwe was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. He lost his student bursaries for speaking out against missionaries and white liberals, who, he said, had sown division among the African people. He also lost his first teaching job because he refused to teach the official apartheid history.
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Table Mountain Hiking

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For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society....more
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