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The Robben Island Museum

For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, which is 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. It was here at Robben Island that rulers sent those regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society. It was also used as a post office, a grazing ground, a mental hospital and an outpost.

Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. To date, three former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and former president Jacob Zuma.

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Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, Western Cape. 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 Autshumato in the mid-17th century.

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.

During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran Robben Island and the Robben Island prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison on Robben Island for their beliefs.

Today, however, Robben Island also tells us about victory over Apartheid and other human rights abuses: 'the indestructibility of the spirit of resistance against colonialism, injustice and oppression'. The image we have of Robben Island today is as a place of oppression, as well as a place of triumph. Robben Island has not only been used as a prison. It was a training and defence station in World War II (1939-1945) and a hospital for leprosy patients, and the mentally and chronically ill (1846-1931).

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Since 1997 Robben Island has been a museum. The museum on the Island is a dynamic institution, which acts as a focal point of South African heritage. The Robben Island Museum runs educational programmes for schools, youths and adults, facilitates tourism development, conducts ongoing research related to Robben Island and fulfils an archiving function.

Visa request process simplified

Minister of Tourism in South Africa, Derek Hanekom is confident that the introduction of online visa applications for foreigners wishing to visit South Africa holds great potential for the tourism industry. Hanekom said the electronic visas, which were expected to simplify the application process, should help increase growth in the tourism sector, “What is exciting me is the massive potential,” he said.

South African tourism was slow in 2017, up only 2.6% on 2016 compared with a global average of 7%. Authorities have blamed the weak performance on a stronger rand and the water crisis in the Western Cape. Hanekom said e-visas would also help reverse last year’s 17% dip in tourist arrivals from the increasingly important Chinese market.

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South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and Hanekom met in May 2018 and announced they would establish a team of senior officials from both departments to work on improving tourism access to the country. “We are dealing with it very vigorously,” Hanekom said. He added that the department of home affairs was looking at waiving the requirement for visas for tourists who were already in possession of visas for the US, Australia, the UK and Schengen countries, which includes 26 European states.

He said he expected changes to the regulations on documentation required by minors travelling into and out of the country to happen before the end of June 2018. “We are on the verge of making a breakthrough,” said Hanekom. In the middle of 2015, it became mandatory for minors travelling in and out of South Africa to travel with an unabridged birth certificate. This new regulation has been heavily blamed for the loss of thousands of foreign visitors. Hanekom added that the regulations “still caused a great deal of trauma”. 

Soweto - The biggest black urban settlement in Africa

Soweto is an urban settlement or 'township' in South Africa, southwest of Johannesburg, with a population of approximately 1.3 million, dwelling in homes ranging from extravagant mansions to makeshift shacks. Soweto was created in the 1930s when the White government started separating Blacks from Whites. Blacks were moved away from Johannesburg, to an area separated from White suburbs. They did this by using the infamous 'Urban Areas Act' in 1923. Soweto obtained its name from the first two letters of South Western Township which was the original description of the area.

The first residents of what is now known as Soweto were located into the area called Klipspruit following their relocation from “Coolietown” in the centre of Johannesburg as a result of an outbreak of bubonic plague. Only black families were located into Klipspruit and the housing was on a rental basis. Klipspruit was subsequently renamed Pimville. In 1959 the residents of Sophiatown were forcibly removed to Soweto and occupied the area known as Meadowlands.

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Located in the Gauteng province, today Soweto is the biggest black urban settlement in Africa with a rich political history. It was the centre of political campaigns aimed at the overthrow of the apartheid state. The township experienced civil unrest during the Apartheid regime. The 1976 student uprising, also known as the Soweto uprising, started in Soweto and spread to the rest of the country, but riots flared up again in 1985 and continued until the first multiracial elections were held in April 1994.

Soweto is a melting pot of South African cultures and has developed its own sub-cultures especially for the young people. Sowetans (as Soweto residents are called) have evolved a local language called tsotsitaal, an eclectic mix of several local languages, Afrikaans and street slang, constantly evolving and spoken mainly by the young.

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It is again in Soweto where you find South Africa’s most famous street - Vilakazi Street. Two Nobel Prize winners lived in this street, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. In fact, Tutu, as he is more fondly known, still lives in this street with his wife Leah. Mandela's house has become a museum. It is called the Mandela House Museum and is open for public tours during the week. In the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets you will find the Hector Peterson Museum and memorial. This is where Hector Peterson was killed by police during the students' uprising of June 16 1976, today celebrated as Youth Day. You can also have a glimpse of the mansion belonging to the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in an affluent part of Orlando West.

In 2010, the South Africa's oldest township hosted the Soccer FIFA World Cup first match in the African soil, when the host nation played Mexico into a 1 all draw.

To get a full and perfect view of Soweto, you need to stand on the foot bridge of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital or the Soweto Towers.

Top South African winter holiday destinations for families

There is no reason to let tight budgets stop you and your family from making some pretty special memories. While some would argue that travel is a luxury, we here at Travel2Africa could not disagree more. It's a necessity and just a quick scan of your best memories and experiences should remind you of its value. Whether you like to bundle up or prefer to head for warmer weather, here are 5 top winter holiday spots the whole family will enjoy.

1. Kruger National Park 

Located in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, The Kruger National Park is one of the biggest game reserve in Africa. With all the available accommodation in the park, Satara Rest Camp is especially great for children, with a playground, kids educational programme and grassy areas. Further north lies Shingwedzi Rest Camp, which offers more rustic accommodation and is great for game viewing in winter. Adults will love the wildlife, game drives, guided bush walks, 4x4 adventure trails and restaurants, while their kids enjoy playgrounds, kid’s educational programmes and wild animals.

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2. Lowveld

Lowveld is the warmer part of Mpumalanga province, covering towns like Nelspruit, White River and Kaapsehoop. Classy accommodation like Forever resorts, Blyde Canyon and Swadini offer loads of family entertainment, including heated kids pools. Your kids will love the motor museum, horse-riding, Mac Mac Adventure Zone and Mankele Mountain Bike Park. Adults will love the 4x4 routes, adventure sports (rafting, tubing, quad biking, abseiling, zipline, paintball, rock climbing, rock climbing, white river rating), hot air balloon trips, microlight trips, aerial cable trail, day trips to Sabie, Graskop, Pilgrim’s Rest, Blyde River Canyon and several waterfalls.

3. Golden Gate National Park

The Golden Gate National Park is located in the Free State. With a variety of family cottages, rondawels at different hotels and rest camps, including at the Basotho cultural village, the Golden Gate has just enough accommodation for you and your entire family. Main attractions for adults include walking trails, lookout points, game drives, scenery, restaurant, coffee shop and a pub. Kids can also enjoy themselves in the snow, Basotho cultural village, vulture restaurant and curio shop.

4. Southern Drakensberg 

Southern Drakensburg is a beautiful place located in KwaZulu-Natal, ±209km from the famous Durban city. Bushman’s Nek Berg, Trout Resort and Sani Mountain Lodge all have family accommodation and entertainment for children. You and your kids will be mesmerized by the wellness spas, 4x4 routes, golf course, trout fishing bird watching, snow on Sani Pass (4x4 only), New England farm, adventure golf, tractor rides and horse-riding.

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5. Durban and South Coast

Located in the coastal side of the kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal, running from Durban to Port Edward. Family-friendly resorts such as Cabana Beach (Umhlanga Rocks), La Cote D’Azur (Margate) and Pumula Beach Hotel (Umzumbe) offer self-catering accommodation, restaurants, shops and daily entertainment programmes for kids will leave you and your family speechless. Your kids will love, Durban Beachfront Funworld amusement park, uShaka Marine World theme park and aquarium, ice-skating, surfing, rickshaw rides, flea markets, beach holiday programmes, Segway tours of Moses Mabhida Stadium, Umgeni Bird Park and Natal Sharks Board. Adults will enjoy the blue flag beaches, sunbathing, mountain biking, quad-biking, shopping, golfing, day-trips to the North Coast (including Ballito), Oribi Gorge Swing and spas.