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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ROBBEN ISLAND (article first published : 2001-12-24)

Charlene Smith’s Robben Island clearly illustrates the justification of the island’s World Heritage status.

This tiny rocky, barren piece of land mirrors in microcosm South Africa’s turbulent, tragic and heroic history. From the 16th century to 20th it has been used variously as a “natural” larder, farm, place of banishment and punishment, leper colony, lunatic asylum, army base, and finally the infamous, escape-proof fortress of incarceration of the Apartheid government’s political prisoners.

“The Years of Terror” 1960s to 80s are graphically described, the inhumanity of the authorities and the mental and physical torture of the prisoners. Charlene Smith has done her research and writes well, with a wry sense of humour.

There is an account of the natural history and flora and fauna of the island and many colour and black-and-white photographs.

The book is full of fascinating details. Who knows Bridgette Oppenheimer (nee McCall) did “time” on the island during World War 11?

Robben Island should be essential reading for all South Africans, an island haunted by brutality and harshness is now recognised as a symbol of man’s inhumanity to man and the triumph of the human spirit.

Published by Struik, Robben Island is in softcover format with 160 pages and retails at R89.95 - Sheina Wood.




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