Robben Island walking tour should be reviewed – Ex-Political Prisoners Association

Robben Island Museum’s new walking tours were slammed by locals, saying the prices were too expensive for South Africans to experience their own country.

The Ex-Political Prisoners Association (EPPA) met with Robben Island Museum (RIM) last Monday, January 17, amid concerns about the cost of their walking tour.

EPPA secretary general Mpho Masemola told the CapeTowner that in the meeting, they suggested to Robben Island Museum that they needed to review the current walking tour. “They need to review it and engage with us so that we can find a something that works for everyone.”

He also said that they were working on a new tour, which will be called the memorial walk. While this walking tour plans were in early stages, he said part of it was to get businesses to pledge to sponsor the walk, so that it is as accessible as possible.

The walking tour in contention, advertised as a guided walking tour on the island “as we walk in the footsteps of those before us in liberating South Africa” priced at R1000 for South African adults and R620 for South African children aged two to 18 years became a hot topic on social media as people ranted about how expensive it was for locals to see their own country.

Non-South African adults will need to pay R1400 and R820 for non-South African children aged two to 18 years.

In response to the concerns, Khensani Maluleke, Robben Island Museum Council Chairperson, said the walking tour was not designed to exclude South Africans.

“In the current economic climate, striking a balance between offering value for money and ensuring short-term sustainability is understandably challenging. While the systematic revival of the tourism industry is gaining momentum, as more countries are opening their borders to international travel, the road to economic recovery is long.

“As such we need to be agile in our response to the market and adapt accordingly.”

He said the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has resulted in greatly reduced visitor numbers to Robben Island Museum and, consequently, reduced turnover. “Management of RIM has explored new income generating streams which will sustain RIM as a going concern, protect the jobs of the workers (which is of paramount importance), maintain stability at RIM and enable RIM to continue to fulfil its mandate and obligations to popularise both South Africa’s painful history during the colonial and apartheid eras and our long walk to freedom through the sacrifices made by countless numbers of people during our struggle. It is in this context that the idea of a walking tour was conceptualised.”

He said in addition to the standard tours by bus around the Island, the walking tour covers more sites. During this tour, visitors will see eight historic sites, including the Murray’s Bay Harbour Exhibition, the Visitor Centre Complex, the Land of Banishment for Xhosa Chiefs, the Ou Tronk Exhibition, the Blue Stone Quarry, the World War II Precinct, the Agricultural Precinct, the Lime Stone Quarry, and the Maximum Security Prison.

“We are not deaf to increasing public sentiment that the walking tour is beyond the reach of the locals. A comparative study was done with other similar offerings in the tourism space. This new tour, including the cost thereof, is a pilot. We have already seen a positive uptake and will evaluate and amend our product and pricing strategy over time,” said Mr Maluleke.

Another concern was the statement from Mr Masemola claiming that the walking tour was an idea stolen from him. In response to this, Mr Maluleke said the allegation,that the walking tour was “stolen” from him after a presentation was made to RIM last year, is disingenuous and disappointing.

“This offering was conceptualised by RIM in 2015 and has been work-in-progress ever since. We will continue to engage EPPA and other stakeholders in this regard, in the quest for a sustainable tourism operation.”

However, after the meeting on Monday, Mr Masomela said that RIM and EPPA have decided to steer away from the word “stolen”. However, he said that the EPPA have, indeed, made presentations about a walking tour in the past.

RIM did not respond to this, saying that the minutes of the meeting were not ratified yet. They also did not comment on the proposed plan for a new walking tour.

Meanwhile, in a tourism performance meeting on Thursday January 20, Mayoral committee member for tourism and economic opportunity, James Vos, said it was imperative that stakeholders do their best to make Cape Town as accessible as possible. “The prices must also accommodate South Africans.”

Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy said two-tier pricing is an ongoing conversation, but the reality is that South Africa was one of the most unequal countries in most aspects.

He said while public assets should be affordable, it must also be done in an international fashion.