Robben Island is a low-lying outcrop of rock and sand, guarding the entrance to Table Bay. Although just a few kilometres long and a barely swimmable distance from Cape Town, it may well be the most significant historical site in South Africa today. Paradoxically it symbolises both the repressiveness of the apartheid state and the strength of those who opposed it. While interpretations of the Island’s history have focused mainly on its role as political prison and on the wll-known prisioners held there, such as Nelson Mandela, the Island has been put to many and varied uses over the last 500 years: as pantry, hospital, mental asylum, military camp as well as prison. In spite of these various roles there are continuities in its history. Above all, the island has served mainly as repository for those who were considered dangerous to the South African social order. A history of the island provides therefore an off-shore echo of the history of the mainland.
Drawing on recent research, this scholarly yet lively history of the Island, the first of its kind, recovers the experiences of all those who have lived there: Khoi clients of the Dutch, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Xhosa chiefs from the Eastern Cape, lepers and ‘lunatics’, military personnel during the Second World War, Rivonia trialists. In particular, two chapters on the political prisioners of the apartheid from 1963 to 1990 form a pathbreaking study off this aspect of the Island’s history.
ISBN: 978-0-86486-299-0, 2015, 245x168mm, 192 pages
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