Since the 17th century, Robben Island has been used for political prisoners. Blame the Dutch for starting this trend, with first prisoner Harry die Strandloper. The island was also used as a leper colony (1846-1931) and a place to quarantine animals, not to mention the mentally and chronically ill. During World War 2 it was fortified and used to help protect Cape Town. But it was still used as a prison during this time. By now, most of you know this is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. He was the African National Congress leader, and the former President of South Africa (first Black president).
Since 1997, Robben Island has been a museum and a heritage site.
At one time, the sea channel between the island and Cape mainland was not covered with water. It became a prison for both Portuguese and English convicts from 1498 to 1615. In 1771, the famous Dutch East India Company used it as a quarantine station. In 1795, the British used it as a prison for military convicts. In 1961 to 1996, it was used for its most famous use, as a prison for political prisoners, like Nelson Mandela.
After I get back, I will try to get a better handle on the whole political and racial thing here. It is a quagmire to say the least.