Robben Island

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Robben Island, one of the islands of the Triple Break
Maura Sanderoff in middle with Delle Henry on left and Theodore Yach on right after completing a 7.5 km Robben Island to Bloubergstrand crossing in Cape Town, South Africa
Robben Island (Afrikaans: Robbeneiland) is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometers west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island" and is part of the African Swim Safari tour. Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 kilometers long north-south, and 1.9 kilometers wide and is the site of solo swims and the Cadiz Freedom Swim. It is flat and only a few meters above sea level. The past President of South Africa and Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela, past South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, and current South African President Jacob Zuma were imprisoned on Robben Island, alongside many other political prisoners.


Triple Break

It is also one of the swims of the Triple Break or Triple Crown of Prison Island Swims together with Alcatraz Island in the United States and Spike Island in Ireland.

Quatro Break

It is also one of the swims of the Quatro Crown of Prison Island Swims an extension of the Triple Crown of Prison Island Swims. Quatro Break Sites include:

1. Robben Island is the former isolated prison home of Nelson Mandella and other South Africans 7.5 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.
2. Alcatraz Island is the former isolated prison home of Al Capone and other celebrated American criminals 1.5 miles from Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay in California, U.S.A.
3. Spike Island (Irish: Inis Píc) is the former isolated prison home of infamous immates 2 kilometers off the coast in Cobh Harbour, Ireland.
4. Rottnest Island sites 19.7 km west of Perth in Western Australia. It was used as an Aboriginal prison between 1838 and 1931 where 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys were imprisoned.

Robben Island, Alcatraz Island, Spike Island and Rottnest Island, once well-guarded isolated prison islands, are now 21st century sites better known for challenging swims with tricky currents and surrounding marine life. Convicts have given way to open water traditionalists and wetsuit-clad swimmers.

Prison Island Swims

Robben Island is one of the 8 open water swims of the Octad of Open Water Swims or Prison Island Swims that includes the following open water swims around formerly well-guarded isolated prison islands. Robben Island, Alcatraz Island, Spike Island and Rottnest Island are now 21st century sites better known for challenging open water swims with tricky currents and surrounding marine life. Convicts of the past have given way to contemporary open water swimming traditionalists and wetsuit-clad triathletes and swimmers.


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. 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.

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. Initially this was done on a voluntary basis and the lepers were free to leave the island if they so wished. In April 1891 the cornerstones for 11 new buildings to house lepers were laid. After the introduction of the Leprosy Repression Act in May 1892 admission was no longer voluntary and the movement of the lepers was restricted. Prior to 1892 an average of about 25 lepers a year were admitted to Robben Island, but in 1892 that number rose to 338, and in 1893 a further 250 were admitted.


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