Mandela was branded a communist terrorist by the apartheid government and spent 27 years in prison as a result. Despite this, he was instrumental in bringing about a peaceful reconciliation in a country torn apart by racism, was loved and revered throughout the world for his magnanimity, and became Madiba, the father of the people.
He received over 1 000 awards, more than 125 streets, boulevards, avenues, bridges and highways have been named after him, and his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, has been read by millions.
For those who come to our shores to experience a little of this great man’s life, here is a list of places to visit…
Mandela’s South Africa – Top Mandela-infused sites to visit
Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
The Apartheid Museum is an illuminating exhibit of the rise and fall of the country’s era of segregation and oppression through film text, audio and live accounts. If you visit only one place during your stay in the country, then this is it. Find out more here – Apartheid Museum.
Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
The seat of the country’s Constitutional Court lies on the same site as the Old Fort Prison, or Number Four, where political prisoners and criminals awaited trial during apartheid. Regarded as the ‘Robben Island of Johannesburg’, guided tours and exhibitions vividly recall the country’s past injustices. Mandela spent two weeks in the Awaiting Trial Block in 1956. Find out more here – Constitution Hill.
Liliesleaf farm, Johannesburg
Clandestine headquarters of the ANC’s banned military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Nelson Mandela lived here under the guise of houseboy of the ‘owners’, the façade of a respectable middle-class white family. The arrest of many of the key players of the ANC (Mandela was already on Robben Island by then), after a police raid, put paid to apartheid resistance for 20 years. Find out more here – Liliesleaf Farm.
Nelson Mandela Bridge, Johannesburg
The longest cable-stayed bridge in Southern Africa, the bridge that links Newtown with Braamfontein is an icon of inner-city renewal in Johannesburg. The challenge was to construct a birdge across 42 railway lines without disrupting traffic. The bridge was opened by Nelson Mandela in 2003. Find out more here – Nelson Mandela Bridge.
Sharpeville Human Rights Precinct, Johannesburg
A memorial for those who died in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre during which supporters of the Pan Africanist Congress protested the dompas (pass laws forced black people to carry passbooks when outside their ‘homelands’). Police opened fire, killing 69 and injuring a further 180. The event sparked international fury. The memorial was opened by Mandela in 2001. Find out more here – Sharpeville Township and Memorial.
Nelson Mandela Statue, Parliament Square, Pretoria
In front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria Accommodation is a 9m-high bronze statue of Mandela with his arms outstretched in an embrace of the nation (there is also a bronze sculpture of Nelson Mandela in Parliament square, London). Once indistinguishable from apartheid, the Union Buildings now represent democracy and are a National Heritage Site. The statue was unveiled the day after Mandela’s funeral (look for the little bronze rabbit in Mandela’s ear!). Find out more here – Nelson Mandela Statue.
Nelson Mandela capture site, Howick, KwaZulu-Natal
On the R103, roughly 3 km outside of Howick, Nelson Mandela (pretending to be a chauffeur) was captured by police on 5 August 1962. On the run for 17 months, Mandela was returning from a secret meeting with ANC’s president, Albert Luthuli. An incredible sculpture of Mandela’s face, designed by Marco Cianfanelli, now marks the spot. Find out more here – Nelson Mandela Capture Site.
Ohlange Institute, Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal
Ohlange Institute is a high school in Inanda, just north of Durban. Here Nelson Mandela cast his first democratic vote in 1994; he was prevented from ever voting before by apartheid. He chose this school because it was founded by the first ANC president, John Langalibalele Dube. Find out more here – Ohlange Institute.
Robben Island, Cape Town
Robben Island needs no introduction. The world knows it as the place of imprisonment of Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 year sentence there. Daily tours depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. Find out more here – Robben Island.
Nobel Square, Cape Town
Drakenstein Correctional Centre, Franschhoek
Mandela served the last 14 months of his 27 years in prison in a house in these grounds. He left the prison a free man. At the prison gates stands a life-size bronze statue of him with his fist raised. The statue, by Jean Doyle, was commissioned by Tokyo Sexwale who spent 13 years on Robben Island. Find out more here – Groot Drakenstein Prison.
Mandela Rhodes Building, Cape Town
The Herbert Baker designed building, donated by De Beers, houses The Mandela Rhodes Foundation that provides postgraduate study opportunities to students across the continent. Find it on the corner of St George’s Mall and Wale Street. Find out more here – Mandela Rhodes Building.
City Hall and the Grand Parade, Cape Town
Mandela gave a speech from the balcony of City Hall immediately upon his release from prison. This was his first public address in 27 years, during which he spoke about his commitment to democracy, peace and reconciliation. Find out more here – City Hall and Grand Parade.
Mandela House Museum, Vilakazi Street, Soweto
No 8115 is the house where Mandela lived in Soweto. He lived here first with his wife Evelyn Mase and, after their divorce, with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela, although he was to spend little time here during their marriage. He returned to the house after his imprisonment, in 1990. The house is now a museum and belongs to the Soweto Heritage Trust. Find out more here – Mandela House Museum.
Nelson Mandela Voting Line sculpture, Port Elizabeth
This sculpture, in the Donkin Reserve, represents the thousands of South Africans who participated in the first democratic elections of 27 April 1994. At the end of the queue is a metal cut-out of Nelson Mandela, his fist in the air. Find out more here – Nelson Mandela Voting Line Sculpture.
Fort Hare University, Alice, Eastern Cape
Fort Hare was one of the only Western-style academic education institutions to offer sub-Saharan African students a higher education, between 1916 and 1956. It was from this university that a black African elite emerged. Mandela enrolled in 1939, but was expelled the following year for taking part in a student protest. The faculty of Law is called the Nelson R Mandela School of Law. Find out more here – Fort Hare University.
Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton
In the square of a huge shopping mall in Sandton stands the six metre high statue of Nelson Mandela (just his shoes are a metre in length), sculpted by Kobus Hattingh and Jacob Maponyane. The statue is surrounded by restaurants, a public library and a theatre. More than 10 000 businesses operate in the area. Visitors have their photo taken with Mandela. Find out more here – Nelson Mandela Square. Also see Chancellor House.
To experience Mandela’s story, download the Madiba inspired tourist attractions’ map released by South African Tourism here – Madiba’s Journey (highly recommended)