Robben Island Museum denies buildings in ruins, infrastructure decaying

Robben Island's Siphuxolo Mazwi stressed that the narrative that its buildings were in ruins and decay was completely devoid of truth and urged people to visit the World Heritage site.

A view of a guard tower and Table Mountain behind some of the former prison buildings on Robben Island. The prison is now a museum dedicated to showing visitors the brutal conditions under which the prisoners lived, but also how important the island became as a base to counter the apartheid regime. Picture: RODGER BOSCH/AFP

CAPE TOWN - The Robben Island Museum said that the narrative that its buildings were in ruins was completely devoid of truth as there was a maintenance plan in place.

Over the past few weeks, concerns were raised about the state of the World Heritage site.

The Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Western Cape also weighed in on the matter, highlighting the deterioration of assets on the island.

Meanwhile, the Ex-Political Prisoners Association has called on the president to conduct an oversight inspection of Robben Island.

In a recent interview on CapeTalk, the association's Mpho Masemola said that those who had been appointed to look after the assets on the island had let them down.

"It is based on neglect and the decaying structures on Robben Island and those decaying structures are our heritage and once you tamper with the heritage, it means you are tampering with the legacy of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Kratoa and all political prisoners."

He said that the association had received a number of complaints from visitors and former political prisoners concerned about decaying structures on the island.

"For instance, the quarry is in disarray, there's a boat called Susan Kruger laying at Jetty 1 - it is growing grass, rusting and we view that, as political prisoners, very seriously. You cannot destroy such heritage. We are deleting our history."

In a written response to Eyewitness News, the Robben Island Museum said that the Susan Kruger ferry was currently mooring at Jetty 1 as a temporary measure. The ferry was taken out of commission as she was over 60-years-old and it was no longer economically viable to operate.

As part of the integration strategy, the plan was to return the Susan Kruger to Robben Island as an exhibit and during the hard lockdown last year, the site where she would be housed on the island was prepared.

The next phase was to take the ferry out of the water at the end of the 2020/21 financial year and move it to a dry dock to have restoration work done.

But the economic impact of COVID-19 meant that financial resources had to be reprioritised and the maintenance plan for the Susan Kruger was temporarily put on hold.

The Robben Island Museum has admitted that like many other organisations in the tourism sector, it was feeling the economic impact of COVID-19 and fighting to remain sustainable in the short term.

The prolonged economic onslaught of the pandemic has pushed the organisation into crisis mode financially and management was now considering various business rationalisation options, with effect from June this year, until there was a resumption of normal business at the museum.

This included cutting staff salaries, with equally reduced working hours across the board.

The museum said that employees had all been informed of the situation through a process of internal engagement where options were being discussed, to mitigate the financial impact on staff.

Robben Island's Siphuxolo Mazwi stressed that the narrative that its buildings were in ruins and decay was completely devoid of truth and urged people to visit the World Heritage site.

"Robben Island is currently down by 90% in numbers compared to the previous years because we were getting our international tourists - 70% of them were international tourists, and almost 30% of them are local tourists, so you can imagine that in terms of profit, we are not making much."

Mazwi said that currently, tours were running on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am.

"I would appeal to South Africans to come to the museum to see that we are not covering anything up. Currently, we are running specials mostly to attract the youth to be able to connect with their heritage. We do have plans to enhance our product and also to give a more authentic experience in some of the exhibitions. We want, when the tourism sector opens fully, to give our tourists value for money."

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