Now that I’m getting closer to the end of my time in Cape Town — which has flown by — I’m trying to make sure that I don’t miss out on any of the must-sees. At the end of last week, I visited two of Cape Town’s biggest tourist attractions — Robben Island and Table Mountain.
Robben Island was one of the main prisons used for political prisoners during Apartheid. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on the island.
The island itself is beautiful, and offers a great view of Table Mountain
The tour of the island was honestly pretty boring, but it’s such a historically significant place that I was glad to be there anyway. It was particularly nice to see some of the locations on the island that I’d just read about in Mandela’s book.
Here’s my photographic mini-tour of the prison for you:
Nelson Mandela’s cell, including the mats that prisoners slept on instead of beds and the bucket that they had to use as toilets.
The yard where prisoners were allowed to exercise. In the back is a garden that Mandela was allowed to cultivate in his later years on the island, which is where he hid the original manuscript of his book.
The lime quarry where political prisoners worked for many years. According to the book, the quarry was one of the only places where the prisoners were not always watched very closely and had the chance to talk to each other, including to discuss politics and to plan strategies for improving prison conditions through strikes or other actions. Working in the quarry was physically very strenuous and the reflection of the sun off of the lime would damage the prisoners’ eyes. Apparently Nelson Mandela still requests that photographers don’t use a flash up close when taking pictures of him because his eyes were damaged from working in the quarry.
And finally, the tour guide, who was himself a former political prisoner on the island.
Admirably, the guide spoke about the island and his time on it without any anger or bitterness. Others in the tourism industry speak about apartheid the same way. It is hard to tell whether these sentiments are shared by non-white South Africans outside of the tourist industry. Nelson Mandela has disseminated a philosophy of forgiveness and looking to the future rather than seeking vengeance or dwelling on the past, and what he says obviously has had a tremendous influence on the country, but his philosophy can’t be easy to follow, especially in poor communities (which make up the majority of the country).
The following day, I went to Table Mountain, where I hiked and then just hung out for hours and enjoyed the views, which were pretty spectacular.
Next up — food markets, how to not rent a car in Cape Town, and hopefully some botanical gardens :). Also, thanks for all of the comments, I really love reading them!