About 2000 years ago, the Khoikhoi migrated towards the Cape Peninsula from the north, displacing the San people and bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant local tribe when the Europeans first sailed into Table Bay. António de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it Taboa do Cabo (Table of the Cape in Portuguese).
In 1796, during the British occupation of the Cape, Major-General Sir James Craig ordered three blockhouses to be built on Table Mountain: the King’s blockhouse, Duke of York blockhouse (later renamed Queen’s blockhouse) and the Prince of Wales blockhouse. Two of these are in ruins today, but the King’s blockhouse is still in good condition. and easily accessible from the Rhodes Memorial.
Between 1896 and 1907, five dams: the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villiers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs, were opened on the Back Table to supply Cape Town’s water needs. A ropeway ascending from Camps Bay via Kasteelspoort ravine was used to ferry materials and manpower. There is a well-preserved steam locomotive from this period housed in the Waterworks Museum at the top of the mountain near the Hely-Hutchinson dam. It had been used to haul materials for the dam across the flat top of the mountain. Cape Town’s water requirements have since far outpaced the capacity of the dams and they are no longer an important part of the water supply.
Following a big fire in 1986, the Cape Times started a ‘save the mountain’ campaign. Three years later, the Cape Peninsula Protected Natural Environment (CPPNE) area was established. However, environmental management was still bedeviled by the fragmented nature of land ownership on the Peninsula. Following another big fire in 1991, Attorney General Frank Kahn was appointed to reach consensus on a plan for rationalizing management of the CPPNE. In 1995, Prof. Brian Huntley recommended that SANParks be appointed to manage the CPPNE, with an agreement signed in April 1998 to transfer around 39,500 acres to SANParks. On May 29, 1998, then-president Nelson Mandela proclaimed the Cape Peninsula National Park. The park was later renamed to the Table Mountain National Park.
Fires are common on the mountain. The fires include those of January 2006, which burned large amounts of vegetation and resulted in the death of a tourist (a charge of arson and culpable homicide was laid against a British man who was suspected of starting the blaze), and March 2015.
Robben is derived from Dutch, and means seals. The island was named after the large number of seals that once populated its shores. When the British annexed the Cape in 1806, they continued this practice and established a whaling station on the island, which lasted until 1820.
In 1845, the penal colony was moved to the mainland and replaced with a colony of lepers, who were soon joined by other ‘undesirables’, including paupers, alcoholics, the mentally ill and the chronically unwell.
After 1931, the sickly were sent to hospitals in Cape Town and the island became a military outpost during World War II. Artillery was installed and the government built roads, a power station, houses and an airstrip.
In 1961, the South African apartheid government opened a maximum-security prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals, including Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid activists. The prison was notorious for its harsh conditions. Prisoners were subjected to gruelling tasks, such as breaking rocks into gravel in the courtyard, and were constantly exposed to the elements. Remarkably, the prison failed to crush the spirit of Mandela and his comrades, who used their time here to educate themselves and debate a wide range of topics. In 1991, all political prisoners were released, followed by the common-law prisoners five years later.
Today, the Robben Island is a stark reminder of the apartheid system, and a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice. The island s a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
REFERENCE: Google Earth