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Robben Island Penal Colony South Africa

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  • Andries Oelofse, SV/PROG (1643 - bef.1709)
    Andries OELOFSE went to South Africa in 1668 from Oslo, Norway Andries OELOFSE, also spelt OELSEN is from Christiaan Stad (Oslo). He arrived at the Cape in 1668. In March 1668 Oelofse is 26 years old ...
  • David Stuurman, Chief of the Khoena (c.1773 - 1830)
    Excellent Biography at the Cape Slave and Indigene People's Site by Patric Tariq Mellet Biography at SA History Online
  • Prince Catchiri Daijman Mamoetie van Ternate (c.1690 - 1747)
    Exiled family member of the King of Ternate who had been found guilty of rape. After persisting at the Cape in serious lawless and immoral behaviour (incl operating a brothel), he is incarcerated on ...
  • Wilton Mkwayi (1923 - 2004)
    Wilton Mkwayi was one of the Robben Island stalwarts who served life imprisonment with Nelson Mandela. Wilton Mkwayi, trade unionist and political activist: born Qwaru, South Africa 17 December 1923; ...
  • Hans Christoffel Snijman, SV/PROG (c.1645 - d.)
    Hans Christoffel Snijman a. as soldaat v. Hartzburg, Duitsland voor 1665, na Robbeneiland verban, geen rekord gevind na 1668, het voorkind gehad by Catharina, vrygestelde kompanjieslavin, v. Paliacatta...

Collecting profiles of people who were exiled or worked on the infamous Robben Island penal colony off the Cape Coast of South Africa

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Robben Island

From Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site Coordinates 33.806734°S 18.366222°E

Robben Island (Afrikaans: Robbeneiland) is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island".


Since the end of the 17th century, Robben Island has been used for the isolation of mainly political prisoners. The Dutch settlers were the first to use Robben Island as a prison. Its first prisoner was probably Harry die strandloper in the mid-17th century. Amongst its early permanent inhabitants were political leaders from various Dutch colonies, including Indonesia, and the leader of the mutiny on the slave ship Meermin. After a failed uprising at Grahamstown in 1819, the fifth of the Xhosa Wars, the British colonial government sentenced African leader Makanda Nxele to life imprisonment on the island . He drowned on the shores of Table Bay after escaping the prison.

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.

Since 1997 it has been a museum and a heritage site. 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. The island was also used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. Starting in 1845 lepers from the Hemel-en-Aarde (heaven and earth) leper colony near Caledon were moved to Robben Island when Hemel-en-Aarde was found unsuitable as a leper colony.

During the Second World War the island was fortified and guns were installed as part of the defences for Cape Town. It was also used as a prison.

List of former prisoners held at Robben Island

  • Autshumato / Herrie
  • Peter Becker SV/PROG, prisoner
  • Dennis Brutus, former activist and poet
  • Patrick Chamusso, former activist of the African National Congress
  • Laloo Chiba, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Eddie Daniels , author and activist
  • Jerry Ekandjo, Namibian politician
  • Nceba Faku, former Metro Mayor of Port Elizabeth
  • Petrus Iilonga, Namibian trade unionist, activist and politician
  • Ahmed Kathrada, former Rivonia Trialist and long-serving prisoner
  • Langalibalele, one of the first Activists against colonialism
  • Mosiuoa Lekota, imprisoned in 1974, President and Leader of the Congress of the People
  • Mac Maharaj, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Makana, one of the activists against colonialism
  • Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader and former President of South Africa (first black president)
  • Gamzo Mandierd, activist
  • Jeff Masemola, the first prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment in the apartheid era
  • Amos Masondo, current Mayor of Johannesburg
  • Michael Matsobane, leader of Young African Religious Movement. Sentenced at Bethal in 1979; released by PW Botha in 1987.
  • Maqoma, former Ngqika Xhosa chief who died on the island in 1873
  • Govan Mbeki, father of former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki. Govan was sentenced to life in 1963 but was released from Robben Island in 1987 by PW Botha
  • Krotoa 'Eva' van Meerhof
  • Wilton Mkwayi, former accused at Little Rivonia Trial
  • Murphy Morobe, Soweto Uprising student leader
  • Sayed Adurohman Moturu, the Muslim Iman who was exiled on the island and died there in 1754
  • Griffiths Mxenge, a South African Lawyer and member of the African National Congress
  • Billy Nair, former Rivonia Trialist and ANC/SACP leader
  • M. D. Naidoo, a South African lawyer and member of the African National Congress
  • John ya Otto Nankudhu, Namibian liberation fighter[16]
  • John Nkosi Serving life but released by PW Botha in 1987
  • Nongqawuse, the Xhosa prophet responsible for the Cattle Killing
  • Maqana Nxele, former Xhosa prophet who drowned while trying to escape with David Stuurman, Chief of the Khoena (who survived)
  • John Nyathi Pokela, co-founder and former chairman of the PAC
  • Andries Oelofse
  • Joe Seremane, current chairperson of the Democratic Alliance.
  • Tokyo Sexwale, businessman
  • Gaus Shikomba, Namibian politician
  • Walter Sisulu, ANC Activist
  • Siyolo a Gcaleka chief of the frontier wars
  • Hans Snyman SV/PROG 1667
  • Stokwe, a Gcaleka chief of the frontier wars
  • Robert Sobukwe, former leader of the PAC
  • Andimba Toivo ya Toivo, Namibian politician
  • Xhoxho, chieftain of the frontier wars
  • Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and leader of the African National Congress

World War Two


August 1421

Admiral Zeng He and his fleeeet rounded Cape of Good Hope and relatively accurately mapped the continent for the 1st time.


Skipper of the Protugyese ship the explorer Bartholomew Dias was probably the first European to set foot on Robben Island too remove meat and eggs. Source http://www.Cape Slavery Heritage

Antonio de Saldanha 1501

Having set foot on the mainland and climbed to the top of Table Mountain, Antonia de Saldanha retreated to Robben Island after a skirmish with the Khoe on the mainland, in which he was wounded. On Robben Island de Saldanha and his men set about killing as many penguins, seals and tortoises as they could. It is because of the seals the Isalnd was later called Robben Island, the Dutch word for a seal. Source http://www.Cape Slavery Heritage

Pre 1498: Pre-colonial

Unknown. Archaeological research being conducted.

1498-1652: European ships passing the Island via the Cape to the East

Prison, refuge, pantry and post office

  • 1498: First recorded landing by Vasco da Gama's fleet.
  • c.1525: Portuguese convicts
  • 1615: English convicts
  • 1632-40:

1652-1795: Dutch East India Company period

Prison, Pantry & Quarantine station

  • c.1658- 1795: Criminal and political prisoners

Autshumato / Herrie

Kyai Chili Mahmud van Ternate

Krotoa 'Eva' van Meerhof

Peter Bekker

Hans Snyman SV/PROG

  • 1682 - 1795: East Asian exiles
  • 1771-1790: Quarantine station

1795-1802: First British occupation


  • Military & criminal prisoners

1803-1806: Batavian period


1806-1910: British colonial period

Prison & Hospital

  • 1808-1846: Military, criminal and political prisoners

David Stuurman, Chief of the Khoena

  • 1846-1931: Hospital for lepers (until 1931), lunatics (until 1921) and chronic sick (until 1891) See Article on Lepers on RI
  • 1855-1869: Xhosa political prisoners





  • 1874-1890: Prisoners from present-day Kwazulu Natal and Northern Cape regions
  • 1866-1921: Convict station

See also Robben Island Marriage Registers from 1824 to 1898

1910-1961: Union of South Africa

Convict station, Hospital & Coastal Defence and Training Station

  • 1866-1921: Convict station
  • 1846-1931: Hospital for lepers (until 1931), and lunatics (until 1921).
  • 1939-1959: Occupied by the Army and Navy for training and coastal defence

Caroline Elizabeth Hampshire nee Ellis, a nurse

Wilfred George Hampshire, a military officer

1961-1994: Apartheid Republic of South Africa


  • 1961-1991: Maximum security prison for political prisoners

Nelson Mandela

Walter Sisulu

Wilton Mkwayi

  • 1961-1996: Medium security prison for criminal prisoners

1994: Democratic South Africa

Museum & Heritage Site

  • 1997: Museum, National Monument
  • 1999: World Heritage Site


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