ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa — Tourists panned their video cameras through the bars of President Nelson Mandela's former jail cell Wednesday as South Africa threw open Robben Island prison to the public.
The island was formally transferred at midnight Tuesday from the prisons service to the Arts and Culture Department, which has declared it a museum. The prison gained notoriety as the main prison for those, such as Mandela, who fought to overthrow apartheid.
Tourist ferry trips to the island five miles off Cape Town began Wednesday, and the day's 300 available tickets were sold within an hour.
Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail on the island, describing it as the "harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system." The island became a jail in 1960, and the last political prisoners left in 1991. The last common criminals left Robben Island last month.