Today, President Clinton attends a bilateral meeting with South African
President Nelson Mandela. Following the meeting, the Presidents hold a
joint press conference. Later in the afternoon, President Clinton and
President Mandela tour Robben Island.
Robben Island is one of the best-known and most poignant symbols of the
oppression of the apartheid regime. From the 1950s until 1991, the prison
on Robben Island housed black opposition figures, union organizers and
militant activists. During its years as a political prison under the
apartheid regime, Robben Island held approximately 3,000 prisoners.
President Mandela, the prison's most famous inmate, spent 18 years there
for his role as a leader of the anti-apartheid movement. Robben Island has
since been converted into a museum; tens of thousands of South Africans and
foreigners visit every year to tour the Island and see Mandela's cell.
Former inmates and prison guards act as tour guides.
Lying 13 kilometers off Cape Town, the Dutch named Robben Island after the
many seals ('rob') they found there. Fifteenth century Portuguese sailors
and later Dutch and British traders and colonists used the island as an
outpost and prison. Beginning late in the 17th century, the Dutch East
India Company regularly imprisoned criminals and political opponents on
Robben Island. In the 1800s, it was used as a hospital, an asylum for the
mentally ill and a place to isolate lepers. In this century, the island
also served as a military installation.