ROBBEN ISLAND, South Africa — South African icon Nelson Mandela’s former prison Robben Island held its tenth annual Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony on Sunday in which 25 couples tied the knot.
Dressed in wedding finery, the group travelled by ferry to the island 12 kilometres (seven miles) off Cape Town where they exchanged wedding vows and rings days after South Africa marked Mandela’s 20th year as a free man.
“This island has a history of pain. You are all changing history today,” Robben Island museum tourism services senior manager Winston Tsematse told the group.
Sonia Sauls, 49, and Charmaine Weber, 34, whom organisers said were the annual event’s first same-sex newly weds, were among those to say “I do” in the small island chapel bedecked for February 14 with red and white decorations.
“I nearly cried. I couldn’t believe it, that we’re going to get married and especially at Robben Island,” said Weber after the ceremony.
One of South Africa’s major tourist sites, the island has hosted the annual Valentine’s Day event since 2000 with couples taking their vows in succession.
“Many people don’t see it as a prison,” said home affairs official Chris Samaai, one of the presiding officers.
“They see Robben Island for the history part and, especially this year that marks the release of ex-president Mandela 20 years back, it’s very significant.”
South Africa’s first democratic leader, Mandela spent most of his 27 years on Robben Island and was released from a prison outside Cape Town in 1990 in a move that cemented the fall of white apartheid rule.
“Mandela succeeded in changing this country,” said Afrikaans-speaking bridegroom Johannes Visser, 27.
Robben Island was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1999.