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Potential Futures for Robben Island: shrine, museum or theme park?

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Robben Island is South Africa's most famous cultural tourism attraction, principally for its maximum-security prison that housed Nelson Mandela for nearly twenty years. The island is a palimpsest of South African history, from sites associated with aboriginal (Khoi) people to colonial buildings and gun emplacements dating from the Second World War. It was transferred from the control of the South African Department of Correctional Services to the newly established Robben Island Museum (RIM) authority in 1997, allowing only a few weeks to prepare to open the facility to the public. This haste, which did not permit much strategic planning, combined with a rapid increase in visitors to nearly 2,000 per day in peak season, has created a situation where many potential futures for Robben Island as a visitor attraction can be identified. Debates surrounding the future of the island include its position within the multicultural heritage of theWestern Cape, whether or not it should be developed as a conference centre including residential accommodation, and to what extent its message should be politicised. Robben Island functions not only as a museum but also as a sacred site and a shrine to a living man, and was designated in December 1999 as one of South Africa's firstWorld Heritage sites.This fieldwork-based case study discusses potential futures for the island.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2001

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