Google takes world on a tour of Robben Island

24 April 2015

As South Africa prepares to celebrate Freedom Day this year, the 21st anniversary of its first democratic elections, the Robben Island Museum and Google have announced the release of the first-­ever Street View imagery of Robben Island, as well as an audio-­visual tour hosted on Google Cultural Institute.

A collaboration between Google and the Robben Island Museum to make the Unesco World Heritage site accessible to the world via the internet represented an effort to marry history with the future, the museum said in a statement.

 

Mandela's 2x2 prison cell

Mandela’s 2×2 prison cell. He rolled and unrolled his bedding each night as the majority of space in the tiny cell was taken up by his desk and book shelves. (Image: Google Cultural Institute)

 

Sibongiseni Mkhize, chief executive of the Robben Island Museum, said at the launch that the museum was embracing technology to avoid becoming “irrelevant”. “We are using technology to enhance the story of the island.” He said the educational element of the island would be highlighted with this new partnership.

“The reason Robben Island is now a museum is to educate people about the part of South Africa’s heritage that is embodied in the island’s multilayered history. Together with Google we are making this heritage accessible to people all over the world,” he said.

Luke McKend, country director for Google South Africa, said that they had launched the project just days ahead of Freedom Day because “Robben Island is a symbol of South Africa’s fight for freedom”.

“Once a symbol of the oppressive apartheid regime, Robben Island is now a memorial and a reminder of the human spirit’s irrepressible search for freedom. We hope you’ll take a moment to step back in time to explore and be inspired by the island’s story of hope and humanity,” McKend writes on the official Google blog.

It is hoped that the tour will help educate people around the world about the prison colony, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by the apartheid regime for nearly two decades.

 

WATCH: Former Robben Island prisoner Vusumsi Mcongo recalls the incident that led to the closure of the lime quarry on the island.

 

The newly launched guided tour of Robben Island includes a virtual visit to Mandela’s prison cell as well as to activist Robert Sobukwe’s house. It uses a combination of Google’s Street View technology, videos of a tour guide (former political prisoner Vusumsi Mcongo) as well as original still images.

As part of this project, Google Maps will also develop teaching notes on Robben Island for educators who will be using this interactive tour as an educational tool.

Ahmed Kathrada, a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, a former inmate and close friend of the late Mandela, welcomed the initiative at the launch on Wednesday.

“Not being able to see or interact with children for 20 years was possibly the most difficult thing to endure during my time on the island,” he said. “There’s a poetic justice that children in classrooms all over the world will now be able to visit Robben Island using this technology.”

 

Robert Sobukwe's house

The house on Robert Island where Robert Sobukwe was sentenced to solitary confinement during the 1970s. (Image: Google Cultural Institute)

 

Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom said, “The internet is the world’s most powerful source of information and thanks to Google’s partnership with the Robben Island Museum, more people than ever before have access to this World Heritage Site.

“We hope that this initiative not only allows for the world to reflect on South Africa’s struggle for freedom, but also showcase its beauty,” Hanekom said.

The Robben Island Museum announced in April that they would be overhauling the ailing user experience on the island. The app and partnership with Google was a step in the overall improvement of the island, the museum said.

The Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory also confirmed it would update their Cultural Institute exhibits with new layouts and add Street View panoramas of Robben Island.

The Robben Island interactive tour can be accessed on mobile phones, from desktops and from Google’s Cultural Institute, where Robben Island Museum will host five exhibits depicting the history of the island.

SAinfo reporter and news24.com