Robben Island Museum

From the 17th to the 20th centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment.  
Robben Island Museum (RIM) was established in 1997. Robben Island was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. It has also been declared:

  • A South African National Monument in 1996
  • A National Museum in 1996
  • An Associated institution of the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in 1997
  • A National Heritage Site in 2006

The museum is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. It runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to the Island and fulfils an archiving function.


Robben Island Museum operates as a site and living museum. It aims to develop the Island as a national and international heritage and conservation institution. In managing its resources and activities, RIM will strive to maintain the unique and universal symbolism of the Island, nurture creativity and innovation as well as to contribute to the socio-economic development and transformation of the South African society and enrich humanity.


In implementing its vision, RIM focuses on the following core purposes:

  • Maintaining the unique political and universal symbolism and value of RIM.
  • Conserving and managing the natural and cultural resources and heritage of RIM.
  • Promoting RIM as a platform for critical debate and life-long learning.
  • Managing RIM in a manner that promotes economic sustainability and development.

Contact details:

Telephone: +27 (0)21 409 5100
Fax: +27 (0)21 4111 059
Tel +27 21 409 5169 (Robben Island)
Postal address:
Robben Island Museum
Private Bag
Robben Island
Cape Town 7400
Tel +27 21 413 4220/1 (Nelson Mandela Gateway)

Operating hours:
Ferries depart at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm, (subject to seasonal changes and weather conditions), from Nelson Mandela Gateway, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.
The standard tour to Robben Island is 3.5 hours long, including the two half-hour ferry rides.

History of Robben Island

People lived on Robben Island many thousands of years ago, when the sea channel between the Island and the Cape mainland was not covered with water. Since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, Robben Island has been used primarily as a prison.

Indigenous African leaders, Muslim leaders from the East Indies, Dutch and British soldiers and civilians, women, and anti-apartheid activists, including South Africa's first democratic President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, were all imprisoned on the Island.

Robben Island has not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for people with leprosy, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931). In the 1840s, Robben Island was chosen for a hospital because it was regarded as both secure (isolating dangerous cases) and healthy (providing a good environment for cure). During this time, political and common-law prisoners were still kept on the Island. As there was no cure and little effective treatment available for leprosy, mental illness and other chronic illnesses in the 1800s, Robben Island was a kind of prison for the hospital patients too.

Source: Robben Island Museum