Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Notable Residents: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, Jacob Zuma
Amenities: Hard labor, but prisoners were offered educational opportunities while serving sentences
Robben Island is located just off the coast in Cape Town, and has been used for various purposes over the years. Beginning at the end of the 17th century, it was used to isolate political prisoners; Dutch settlers were the first to use it as a prison. It was also used as a leper colony and an animal quarantine station during the 19th century. Initially, the lepers were admitted voluntarily, but in 1892, they were held permanently after the Leprosy Repression Act restricted the movement of lepers.
The island is best known as the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail. While on the island, he and other political prisoners performed hard labor in a quarry. Prisoners were separated by race, and black prisoners received smaller rations of food. Political prisoners were kept away from all others, and were given the smallest portions of food. Mandela was considered a D-group prisoner, the lowest classification possible, and was only allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. When letters did arrive, delivery was delayed and prison censors often made them unreadable. Presently, Robben Island is a huge tourist attraction that can be accessed by taking a ferry from Cape Town.