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Robben Island has been many things, but it is probably playing its most important role in history right now. Having been a prison for political prisoners during the Apartheid era, it now stands as a reminder of that time and the violation of human rights that characterised the Apartheid era. This is supported by the fact that Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, because it fits two of the criteria: 1) The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent testimony to its sombre history and 2) Robben Island and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.
From 1961 Robben Island became a maximum security prison and it was there that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for nearly 20 years along with others such as , Tokyo Sexwale, Jacob Zuma, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe. In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison and in 1994 he became the president of South Africa and one of the most respected leaders the world has ever seen.
Robben Island is now a museum and hosts approximately 1500 visitors every day. Visitors seldom miss the importance of this site as a reminder of the lessons we have learnt and the example that South Africa has set in moving peacefully into a democracy.
It is only right that this landmark is celebrated during this 20th anniversary year of the release of Nelson Mandela.