Robben Island: Symbol of South Africa, Past and Present

For more photographs from Instagrammers who’ve visited Robben Island, check out the Robben Island location page.

The Day of Reconciliation is a public holiday in South Africa held every year on December 16. The holiday was introduced in 1994 after the end of apartheid to foster reconciliation and national unity.

One of the biggest symbols of apartheid’s history is Robben Island. Starting with the Dutch settlement of the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island was used primarily as a prison. Many anti-apartheid political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela (who is recovering in hospital) and current President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, served decades-long sentences at Robben Island. Prisoners there were segregated by race, with black political prisoners receiving the fewest rations and privileges. Mandela was a D-group prisoner, the lowest classification, and was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months during his 18 years there.

Since 1997, Robben Island has been a museum and heritage site. Visitors to the island take a boat from Cape Town and tour the grounds with former Robben Island inmates who share their own stories.