South African Spotlight: Once-In-A-Lifetime Moments on Robben Island

To create a successful incentive program for a client, you need to not only check off bucket list locations and desired experiences but also create moments that participants are unlikely to be able to create on their own. South Africa is the perfect destination to achieve all of these goals.

When you think of South Africa, images of safaris, wine tours and Cape Town are brought to mind. These items are usually on the typical tour guide for a trip to South Africa and as amazing as they are, will most likely be part of an individual’s vacation itinerary with or without a team of expert Travel Planners. We require more than that, insisting that participants experience more than the norm for it to be a JNR incentive trip.

South Africa is a land of stunning experiences and deservingly has eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are included both for cultural reasons and natural beauty.

Robben Island was added to this list in 1999. This island’s remoteness was utilized for various reasons between the 17th century and the 20th century including as a hospital for patients that were deemed to need isolation, a military base and a prison. It was in the late 20th century that the island was used as a maximum security prison in the Apartheid period for political prisoners including Nelson Mandela.

Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island for twenty years. For many of those somber years he shared a cell with a fellow political prisoner and freedom fighter named Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada.

Kathrada left school at the age of 17 to become a full-time Transvaal Passive Resistance Council representative and fought to gain greater political representation for Indians. He spent a month in a Durban Jail for his participation in these campaigns for civil disobedience.

Kathrada studied at the University of Witwatersrand and continued his political and equality work. In the 1950s he was accused in the Treason Trial but eventually found not guilty. Despite repeated detentions and severe house arrest measures, Kathrada continued his anti-apartheid activities and was arrested in 1963 and found guilty of sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government by violent means. He was sentenced to life in prison.

During his time incarcerated in Robben Island Maximum Security Prison and sharing a cell with Mandela, Kathrada completed a Bachelor’s degree in History/Criminology and Bibliography as well as Honours degrees in History and African Politics through the University of South Africa.

In 1990, after President Frederik Willem effectively negotiated to end Apartheid, Kathrada was released and elected to serve in parliament representing the African National Congress (ANC).

JNR was able to coordinate a meeting with this amazing man and program participants, giving them the opportunity to sit and talk in the very prison cell on Robben Island where he spent years of imprisonment with Nelson Mandela. Through his words, these Participants experienced the heroic perseverance that eventually led to a democratic South Africa. Kathrada shared stories of survival, hope and inspiration with those lucky enough to have won a spot on this once-in-a-lifetime, more than bucket-list-worthy, incentive trip.

The criterion that qualifies this island for World Heritage recognition include that it symbolizes “the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.” This deeply moving experience gave participants on this trip the chance to understand the meaning of these words and they still share stories from that unbelievable experience that few others share in the world.

By JNR Incorporated

Written by Stephanie Thomas


JNR Incorporated is a results-based, globally recognized leader that specializes in creating custom travel, meeting, event, prepaid card and merchandise programs that motivate, engage and inspire the employees, customers and channel members of our clients. We have over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies of many diverse industries. Our programs are tailored to fit the specific needs of marketing, sales, management and human resource professionals. The unique solutions we apply are measurable and proven to increase performance, loyalty and revenues.

Photo courtesy of Donna Rohmer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

4 × four =