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Robben Island
Robben Island is a windswept and barren island, a few miles off the Cape Town coast in Table Bay. Between 1931 and 1960 its role was a military outpost monitoring the approach to Table Bay. In 1959 the government declared it a 'maximum security institution'.

From 1962, thousands of black prisoners were sent there, including Nelson Mandela (ANC) who was imprisoned in 1963 and Robert Sobukwe (the PAC leader). While most prisoners were from these two major parties, there were also members of the NEUM affiliated 'African People's Democratic Union of South Africa', Black Consciousness and even the Liberal Party.

During the 1960s conditions were horrendous due to forced hard labour, poor food and racist warders. However, education and political mobilisation were present from these early days, and in the 1970s conditions began to improve.

Changes came as a result of international pressure, hunger strikes by prisoners and their testimonies. The energies of certain politicians also helped, notably Helen Suzman, the only member of the liberal Progressive Party in parliament.


Sport, recreation and academic study became available, and we are told that Monopoly was Mandela's favourite game. Visits from children were allowed during the 1980s, as were newspapers. The last political prisoners left in 1991 and ordinary prisoners in 1996.


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