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‘We had a nightmare experience at Robben Island’‚ says Cape Town man

Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, now a museum, Cape Town, South Africa as viewed at the entry gate.
Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, now a museum, Cape Town, South Africa as viewed at the entry gate.
Image: 123RF/mark52

A Cape Town man has described his and his family’s experience at Robben Island at the weekend as the “most embarrassing and most disappointing experience ever“.

Mufaro Magidi and his family went to the island – a former leper colony most famously known as housing the prison where former president Nelson Mandela and other apartheid activists were kept – on Sunday. But he‚ his wife‚ his wife’s mother‚ two of his wife’s aunts and another family member‚ did not get the trip they were hoping for.

Magidi said his mother-in-law and one of her sisters are confined to wheelchairs. He said that prior to their trip he made several calls to find out whether the island tour was wheelchair-friendly. He said he was assured it was.

“On arrival at the Island‚ we were told to walk with the guide and a group of tourists to the cells for the first leg of the tour because the buses were full.

“The guide did not pay any attention as to the physical needs of the people and we were left behind to walk on our own‚” Magidi said.

He said that by the time they arrived at the cells‚ the group they were following had already left. A staff member arrived and took them on the tour of the cells.

“Even when you get to the cells‚ there was no ramp for wheelchairs [at the entrance they used]. We literally had to lift up the person‚ bend the wheelchair and push it through the door‚” said Magidi.

He said they had then proceeded to the bus for the island tour.

“The same [thing] happened when we got to the buses. It was really terrible because we had to pick them up and carry them onto the buses‚ because the bus had no rail. You can imagine that this is my mother-in-law that I have to carry onto the bus.”

Magidi said some of the tourists on the trip assisted them‚ while the driver and a staff member looked on.

“This was happening in full view of all other tourists and so you can imagine the guilt and embarrassment this caused for me and my in-laws.

“If it wasn’t for the one staff member who took pity on us and gave us a tour inside the cells‚ we would have been left with nothing. Imagine paying R350 [each] for six people and getting that kind of service‚” he said.

Magidi said the island needed to improve their wheelchair friendly facilities. He said his mother-in-law felt “very bad” about the situation.

“It was a nightmare‚ to say the least. They are selling a package that is not there. This is ‘Mandela island’ and it’s ridiculous.”

When asked if he would return to Robben Island sometime in the future‚ Magidi replied: “Maybe one day‚ but at this point I am super frustrated by the way they handled things.”

The island museum’s management has apologised for what Magidi and his family had to go through.

“We sincerely apologise for our visitors’ unfortunate experience and we thank them for sharing their valuable feedback.”

Robben Island spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said they were in the process of improving access at all their facilities across the entire value chain to ensure that everyone’s experience was equal irrespective of their physical condition.

“As part of our drive towards continuous improvement‚ our staff is trained on service excellence annually. We’re conducting an internal investigation to address the issues raised by the visitor and to see where we fell short‚” Ramaboa said.

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