Robben Island

Robben Island

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century such as the maximum security prison for political prisoners, witness the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism.

Robben Island

Robben Island a été utilisée à différentes époques entre le XVIIe et le XXe siècle comme prison, hôpital pour les malades socialement indésirables et base militaire. Ses bâtiments, et en particulier ceux du XXe siècle, la prison à haute sécurité pour les prisonniers politiques, témoignent de l'oppression et du racisme qui régnaient avant le triomphe de la démocratie et de la liberté.

جزيرة روبن

تمّ استعمال جزيرة روبن خلال مراحل مختلفة بين القرنين السابع عشر والعشرين كسجن وكمستشفى للمرضى غير المرغوب بهم اجتماعياً وكقاعدة عسكرية. وتشهد المباني وبشكل خاص مباني القرن العشرين والسجن المشدّد الأمن الخاص بالسجناء السياسيين على الظلم والعنصرية اللذين سادا قبل انتصار الديمقراطية والحرية.

source: UNESCO/ERI

罗布恩岛

从17世纪到20世纪罗布恩岛曾有过不同的用途,它曾经是监狱、不受社会欢迎的人的医院和军事基地。这里的建筑,特别是那些在20世纪后期的建筑,如用来关押政治犯的监狱,见证了民主和自由战胜压迫和种族主义的过程。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Остров Роббен-Айленд

В период XVII-ХХ вв. Роббен-Айленд использовался как тюрьма, больница для обездоленных и как военная база. Его постройки, особенно те, что относятся к концу ХХ в., например, сверхсекретная тюрьма для политических заключенных, стали свидетелями победы демократии и свободы над угнетением и расизмом.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Robben Island

Robben Island fue utilizada en diferentes épocas, entre los siglos XVIII y XX, como prisión, base militar y hospital para grupos catalogados como socialmente indeseables. Los edificios del siglo XX, y más concretamente los de la cárcel de alta seguridad para presos políticos, constituyen un testimonio de la opresión y el racismo que imperaban antes del triunfo de la democracia y la libertad.

source: UNESCO/ERI

ロベン島

source: NFUAJ

Robbeneiland

Robbeneiland werd op verschillende momenten tussen de 17e en de 20e eeuw gebruikt als gevangenis, als ziekenhuis voor maatschappelijk onaanvaardbare groepen en als militaire basis. De gebouwen – met name die van de late 20e eeuw, zoals de maximaal beveiligde gevangenis voor politieke gevangenen – getuigen van de overwinning van de democratie en de vrijheid op onderdrukking en racisme. Robbeneiland is bekend door de gevangenschap van Nelson Mandela. Hij werd hier ruim 20 jaar lang opgesloten. De laatste politieke gevangenen verlieten het eiland in 1991 en de gevangenis werd uiteindelijk in 1996 gesloten. Sindsdien is het een museum.

Source: unesco.nl

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Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th century and the 20th century as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups, and a military base. Its buildings, and in particular those of the late 20th century maximum security prison for political prisoners, testify to the way in which democracy and freedom triumphed over oppression and racism.

What survives from its episodic history are 17th century quarries, the tomb of Hadije Kramat who died in 1755, 19th century ‘village’ administrative buildings including a chapel and parsonage, small lighthouse, the lepers’ church, the only remains of a leper colony, derelict World War II military structures around the harbour and the stark and functional maximum security prison of the Apartheid period began in the 1960s.

The symbolic value of Robben Island lies in its somber history, as a prison and a hospital for unfortunates who were sequestered as being socially undesirable. This came to an end in the 1990s when the inhuman Apartheid regime was rejected by the South African people and the political prisoners who had been incarcerated on the Island received their freedom after many years.

Criterion (iii):The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent witness to its sombre history.

Criterion (vi):Robben Island and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.

Integrity

The remains on the island as a landscape reflect the history of the island since the 17th century and all the attributes that convey its value.

Little route maintenance had been carried out since The Department of Correctional Services abandoned the island, and many structures require repair and maintenance. A variety of marine and land-based natural, and man-induced, threats also exist due to the lack of clear controls, facilities and direction. With over 700 buildings and sites listed on the island database, those that are not occupied or used are vulnerable to decay.

A growth in visitor-numbers is also putting pressure on the island’s natural and built resources. Work has focused on capital works and infrastructure projects where funding has been easier to obtain compared to budgets for preventive maintenance activities. This imbalance in activities threatens the integrity of what remains.

Authenticity

Precisely because it has followed a historical trajectory that has involved several changes of use without conscious conservation efforts directed at preservation, the authenticity of the Island is total.

The evidence of layering reflects its history since the early 17th century and the events with which it is associated.

Protection and management requirements

In terms of the National Monuments Act of South Africa, the area was declared as a National Monument in 1996. Robben Island, and its buffer zone of one nautical mile, is legally protected as a National Heritage Site through the National Heritage Resources Act(No 25 of 1999); the World Heritage Convention Act (Act No 49 of 1999); the Cultural Institutions Act (Act No 119 of 1998); the National Environmental Management Act (Act No 107 of 1998); National Environmental Management:  Biodiversity Act (Act No 10 of 2004); and the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act No 57 of 2003). Protection in terms of the latter implies that mining or prospecting will be completely prohibited from taking place within the property or its buffer zone. Furthermore, any unsuitable development with a potential impact on the property will not be permitted by the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

The management authority for the property rests with the Robben Island Museum Council with delegated authority for the day-to-day management and conservation matters residing with the Chief Executive Officer.

Progress has been made with the implementation of the Integrated Conservation management plan, specifically in relation to physical conservation and preventive conservation work, ongoing improvements in interpretation and visitor management, and better cooperation with the Department of Public Works. There is a need to improve the institutional/managerial aspects of the property in order to address the vulnerabilities of the built heritage. In particular there is a need to implement the recommendations of the June 2003 Status Quo report, undertaken by the Department of Public Works to assist in guiding future maintenance planning, budgeting and to establish a system to monitor progress. It included an inventory of most infrastructure and facilities, assessed their condition and recommended repairs.

Long Description

The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent testimony to its sombre history, and at the same time symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.

Robben Island is a low-lying rocky outcrop situated 9.3km north of the mainland. It has a Mediterranean climate, and is exposed to violent winter gales and tides that make its northern and western sides virtually uninhabitable. Settlement has concentrated on the southern and eastern coasts of the island. It is characterized by discontinuity, resulting from its episodic history. A determining factor has been the lack of drinking water. The earliest features of human occupation are the abandoned quarries for slate (on the south of the island) and limestone (in the centre), which date from the mid-17th century.

Robben Island was possibly occupied by humans before the arrival of the Europeans, as it is the summit of a submerged mountain, linked by an undersea saddle to the coast of Table Bay. The Cape Peninsula, with Robben Island, fell halfway on sea voyages between Europe and the Orient. The first Europeans to land there were probably members of Vasco de Gama's fleet, who stopped there in 1498 in search of shelter and supplies. They were followed by a growing number of ships in the next two centuries, as it offered food, drinkable water, and security from attack by the indigenous people of the Cape.

The Dutch East India Company first became aware of the potential of the Cape of Good Hope in the mid-17th century, and in 1657 Jan van Riebeeck set up a colony there. They were joined in 1688 by French Huguenots. The colonists began a vigorous policy of enslavement of the indigenous peoples and brought them there from other parts of Africa; the population was also augmented with Muslims deported from the East Indies and elsewhere in the Orient. The potential of the island as a prison was realized by van Riebeeck. First, slaves and prisoners of war were sent there, to cut stone and burn seashells for lime for building the settlement of Cape Town. When the Cape was captured by the British from the Dutch in 1795 and 1806, they continued to use the island as a prison, for military prisoners (mostly white), political prisoners and criminals (mostly black). A tenth of the prisoners were women, but they were transferred in 1835 to a Cape Town prison. This is the nucleus of the existing administrative area, known as 'The Village'. Some of the buildings, such as the clubhouse (formerly the Medical Superintendent's House) of 1840 and the former Anglican parsonage have retained good contemporary detailing inside and outside. The Anglican Church, built with convict labour in 1841, is an early example of Cape Gothic style, plastered and painted white on the exterior. The island prison was closed in 1846 and a general infirmary was established, to receive chronically sick, insane and lepers and relieve pressure on mainland hospitals. The small lighthouse on Minto's Hill in the southern part of the island was built in 1864. Between the village and the harbour slightly to the north known as Murray's Bay there is the small Church of the Good Shepherd (generally known as the Lepers' Church), built by the lepers themselves in 1895 to the designs of the distinguished architect Sir Herbert Baker. Surrounding it are leper graves, now half hidden in the grass. Robben Island becoming the main leper colony in the Cape, with over 1,000 inmates. This was finally to close in 1931.

Plans to turn the island into a holiday resort foundered with the approach of the Second World War, and it was declared to be 'reserved for military purposes' in 1936. It became the first point of defence against an attack on Table Bay, equipped with harbour facilities and heavy coastal artillery. After the war it continued in use for training, and in 1951 was taken over by the South African Marine Corps and then the South African Navy. In 1959 the island was claimed by the Prisons Department as a maximum security prison for political prisoners sentenced by the Apartheid regime, as well as ordinary criminals, all of them black. The present harbour at Murray's Bay was built during the Second World War, along with extensive fortifications and other military structures. Construction of the maximum security prison of the apartheid period began in the 1960s.

The most celebrated of the prisoners on Robben Island was Nelson Mandela, who was incarcerated there for some 20 years. The last political prisoners left the island in 1991 and the prison closed down finally in 1996; since that time it has been developed as a museum.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

It is possible that Robben Island (often known simply as "The Island") was occupied by humans before the arrival of the Europeans, since it is the summit of a submerged mountain, linked by an undersea saddle to the coast of Table Bay.

The Cape Peninsula, with Robben Island, fell halfway on sea voyages between Europe and the Orient. The first Europeans to land there were probably members of Vasco de Gama's fleet, who stopped there in 1498 in search of shelter and supplies. They were followed by a growing number of European ships in the next two centuries, since it offered food, drinkable water, and security from attack by the indigenous people of the Cape.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) first became aware of the potential of the Cape of Good Hope in the mid 17th century, and in 1657 Jan van Riebeeck set up a colony there, formed of VOC officials and free burghers. They were joined in 1688 by French Huguenots following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV. The colonists began a vigorous policy of enslavement of the indigenous peoples and brought them there from other parts of Africa; the population was also augmented with Muslims deported from the East Indies and elsewhere in the Orient.

The potential of Robben Island as a prison was quickly realized by van Riebeeck. First, slaves and prisoners of war were sent there, to cut stone and burn seashells for lime for building the settlement of Cape Town, and they were joined later by others - convicted VOC soldiers and sailors, disaffected Khoisan indigenous people from the mainland, and political and religious (Moslem) leaders from the East Indies.

When the Cape was captured by the British from the Dutch in 1795 and again in 1806, they continued to use the Island as a prison, for military prisoners (mostly white), political prisoners, and criminals (mostly black). A tenth of the prisoners were women, but they were transferred in 1835 to a Cape Town prison. The Island prison was closed in 1846 and a General Infirmary was established, to receive chronically sick, insane, and lepers and relieve pressure on mainland hospitals. (However, the Island was still used on occasion by the British as a secure place of exile for important political prisoners.) The management of the General Infirmary and the care it provided for its patients (who were racially segregated from the 1860s) were of a low order, and the establishment on the mainland of specialized hospitals for the mentally disturbed and the chronically sick, catering for middle-class patients, resulted in Robben Island becoming the main leper colony in the Cape, with over a thousand inmates. This was finally to close in 1931.

Plans to turn the Island into a holiday resort foundered with the approach of World War II, and it was declared to be "reserved for military purposes" in 1936. It became the first point of defence against an attack on Table Bay, equipped with harbour facilities and heavy coastal artillery. After the war it continued in use for training, and in 1951 was taken over by the South African Marine Corps and then the South African Navy.

In 1959 the Island was claimed by the Prisons Department as a maximum security prison for political prisoners sentenced by the Apartheid regime, as well as ordinary criminals, all of them black. The first criminals landed there in 1961, and in the next year they were followed by the first political prisoners. Many were to be sent there in the years that followed, mostly leaders of the African National Congress and Pan African Congress; the most celebrated of the prisoners on Robben Island was Nelson Mandela, who was incarcerated there for some twenty years. During the 1960s and early 1970s the isolation of the Island and the notoriously cruel regime of its staff made it the most feared prison in South Africa. The last political prisoners left the island in 1991 and the prison closed down finally in 1996, and since that time it has been developed as a museum.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation