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South Africa: historic documents handed over to Robben Island Museum

12-05-2010 News Release 10/80

Pretoria (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will hand over historic documents concerning its visits to Apartheid-era detainees to the Robben Island Museum, off the coast of Cape Town, on 13 May.

Photo of 'stone dressers' taken during an ICRC visit to Robben Island prison on 10 April 1967. 

The documents date from 1963 and 1964. More recent files remain classified.

" We hope that these documents will not only enrich the museum's collection but will also facilitate and enhance historical research, " said Catherine Gendre, who heads the ICRC delegation in Pretoria. " They concern the earliest years of the detainee-welfare activities carried out by the ICRC on the island. "

The ICRC will also offer the museum a painting depicting the names and prison numbers of some of the individuals visited by the organization. The painter used a technique, which includes grains of sand evoking the island's quarry mines, where political prisoners carried out forced labour.

A representative of the Robben Island Museum Council will accept the historic documents and the artwork at a special ceremony which will start at Jetty One, in Cape Town's harbour, the pier from which detainees were taken by boat to Robben Island. It will then continue at the former prison, today a world heritage site and museum. The ICRC has a long tradition of working together with memorial institutions and historical research centres. This is the first time the Robben Island Museum has been given public records from the ICRC archives.

The ICRC started visiting political detainees on Robben Island, a maximum security prison, in 1963. Until 1991, it visited thousands of prisoners all over South Africa and gave their families food vouchers and travel tickets so that they could visit them.

  For further information, please contact:
  Annick Bouvier, ICRC Pretoria, tel: +27 12 430 7335 or +27 82 822 87 63
  Lekgetho James Makola, Robben Island Museum, tel: +27 21 413 4220 or +27 83 647 9773
  or visit and Robben Island Organisation