Mandela’s Robben Island

robben-island Mandela

When the Dutch arrived on Robben Island off what is now Cape Town in 1652 the only large animals and birds living there were seals and penguins. It got it’s name from the Dutch for Seal Island. By 1800 the penguins had been wiped out and it took until 1983 for a colony to successfully re-establish itself, and there are now around 13,000 living there. In 1654 the settlers released rabbits as a source of food for passing ships. The inevitable happened and they are now a major problem, with estimates of up to 25,000 wreaking havoc with the vegetation. Robben Island is strikingly flat compared with Table Mountain that sits glowering behind the city of Cape Town on the nearby mainland.

As the world marks the passing of Nelson Mandela, this little island represents a symbol of all the greatness that can be achieved by a man as well as all the evil and destruction that humanity can cause. John Donne wrote in Devotions  1624, nearly 30 years before the Dutch first arrived on Robben Island: “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” When I visited Robben Island some years ago as a tourist all the history and sadness of this featureless 1500 acres seemed to burn in every rock.

Comments are closed.