South Africa's notorious Robben Island prison, where the late president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and which is now a popular tourist destination, will soon run solely on solar power, the government said.

The UNESCO world heritage site off the coast of Cape Town will be a pilot project for the conversion to solar power of the country's national parks, botanical gardens and other heritage sites, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom told reporters on Thursday.

The island, used by the former apartheid government to imprison political opponents, currently uses diesel-powered electricity.

The change will contribute "towards our countrywide effort to reduce the electricity demand and to start shifting towards efficient energy use and renewable energy use," he said.

South Africa suffers regular blackouts as its ageing power stations fail to keep up with increased demand.

The power outages are crippling growth in Africa's most sophisticated economy, while tourism last year contributed nearly 10 percent to the country's GDP over the past year, Hanekom said.

The programme is part of an initial $15m drive to boost tourism.

"The 9.5 million visitors welcomed into South Africa last year contributed to creating a better life for all South Africans," he said.

Source: Agencies