From August 1962, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years and six months in captivity. For more than 17 years of his sentence he was held on Robben Island, prisoner 466/64. He lived together with between 20 and 30 other prisoners convicted for political offences in Section B of a specially built one-storey block, enclosing a courtyard.
Robben Island accommodated African, Indian, and coloured political prisoners between 1962 and 1991. Numbers fluctuated; from the mid to the late 1960s there were well over 1,000 Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and African National Congress (ANC) men on the island as well as a sprinkling of activists from other smaller organisations, and at first about the same number of common-law prisoners— that is, prisoners convicted for ordinary crimes not politically motivated offences.1 Numbers shrank as prisoners completed their sentences although the prison population expanded again after the 1976 Soweto uprising. The first political activists to arrive were from the ANC's rival, the PAC, and PAC prisoners outnumbered the ANC group until the late 1960s. From the late 1960s until the mid-1980s most prisoners convicted under security or treason legislation were sent to Robben Island. From 1963 their captors, the warders, were exclusively white, usually Afrikaans speaking.
The political prisoners were divided into two groups. The block of single cells—that is, individual cells each housing one prisoner— separated a small number of well-known prisoners from a much larger group that were kept in 'general' dormitory-type cells. The single cells were often called the 'leadership section' although senior PAC and ANC men were also from time to time placed in general cells. All the Rivonia trial prisoners were confined in single cells. Until 1968, the general cell population also included criminals serving long