No airport, no cinema, no crime

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The Independent Online
In an age increasingly dominated by faster and more frantic communication, it is hard to believe that until two years ago St Helena could only receive its news from shortwave radio or from newspapers days old.

This 47-square-mile island lies deep in the South Atlantic, more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa, halfway between Angola and Brazil, still has no airport and is dependent on the mail ship which takes two weeks to sail from Cardiff.

Even then there is no suitable harbour for large ships and they have to anchor at sea, as the Governor found to his cost in 1984 when he went out in a small motorboat to greet Prince Andrew and fell into the sea in full ceremonial gear.

From Cape Town, South Africa, the journey takes five days and from Ascension Island two. With a population of 6,000 from mixed British and Indian descent, the island has virtually no natural resources. As many as 1,000 of the adult population work overseas in the Falkland or Ascension Islands.

St Helena became a Crown colony in 1834. The Colonial Prisoners Removal Act 1884 has never been repealed, giving the Crown the power to exile troublesome subjects to St Helena. Its most famous inhabitant is Napoleon Bonaparte, who spent the last six years of his life exiled here until he died in 1821.

St Helena has no cinema, no airport, no regular bus service. But it also has hardly any crime. There were two murders in the early Eighties, but the last murder before that was in 1904. Its children have been described as the "best behaved in the world" and the community is an exceptionally close one.

Recently St Helena has been in the news again after a demonstration over cuts in the subsidy from London from pounds 3.7m to pounds 3.2m after a tough round of negotiations with the Overseas Development Administration. Two councillors resigned in protest.

The Governor refused to endorse one candidate, Bobby Robertson, because a year ago a mob, fuelled by Mr Robertson, burst into the Governor's office and seized him by the gubernatorial tie. They occupied the office for more than three hours, protesting at the low rate of unemployment benefits on the island. A general election earlier this month elected Mr Robertson to the council.

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