A little over a year following his death, the world still is grieving over the passing of one of the most prominent leaders of this century, Nelson Mandela. Known affectionately as ‘Madiba’, Nelson Mandela is loved and respected not just in South Africa, but worldwide for his tireless energy to bring about equality and justice for all. While South Africa has much to offer in terms of the “big 5” wildlife, museums, winelands and vibrant culture, Mandela’s life and legacy is an integral part of any visit to his homeland.
For those looking to do deep exploration into the life and legacy of Madiba, there’s no better place than where it all started: South Africa. We’ve outlined some of the top attractions to help you along your journey in the motherland.
Robben Island needs no introduction with regards to the significance of its place in South Africa’s and indeed the world’s history. Â As “home” to one of the world’s most famous prisoners, Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is quite possibly most well known island-prison on the planet. The island, a World Heritage Site some 5.5miles offshore from Cape Town, was dubbed “Robben” (the Dutch word for seal) Island by early settlers in reference to the seal population at the time. Â Over the centuries, the island has housed a prison, hospital, mental institution, leper colony and a military base. The aforementioned Nelson Mandela would spend 18 of the 27 years of his incarceration imprisoned on the island.
To give a true overview of Nelson Mandela in all phases of his life, from his youth in Qunu to his role as statesman, the museum built in his honour comprises three separate structures: the Bhunga Building in Mthatha, the Qunu component and an open-air museum at Mvezo, where Madiba was born. The Nelson Mandela Museum was officially opened on the 11 February 2000, at a function to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990. The birthplace museum is situated at Qunu, along the N2 highway, south of Umtata in the Eastern Cape. The Museum offers visitors an inspiring journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela’s humble little house in Orlando West, Soweto, now called the Mandela Family Museum but usually simply referred to as the Mandela House, is an interesting stopover for those keen to imbibe a slice of authentic history on the world’s most famous former prisoner. The matchbox home, at 8115 Ngakane Street, was Mandela’s first house. He moved there in 1946 with Evelyn Ntoko Mase, his first wife. She moved out after their divorce in 1957. When Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958, she joined him at the Soweto home. The museum, a house comprising four interleading rooms, contains an assortment of memorabilia, paintings and photographs of the Mandela family, as well as a collection of honorary doctorates bestowed on Mandela by universities and institutions around the world.
The Apartheid Museum, close to downtown Johannesburg, focuses on the notorious system of racial discrimination that became synonymous with South Africa from 1948 (when the white-minority National Party was voted into power) until 1994, the year in which the country held its first fully democratic elections. Visitors enter the Apartheid Museum through doorways marked “Black” and “White” depending on the ticket they get, which is not based on your skin color. As you continue through the museum, you are able to experience the injustices that were based on race in South Africa. The museum features footage of former president Nelson Mandela’s interview with the BBC while in hiding from the authorities in 1961, as well as of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd justifying racial segregation. A tour of the museum is sure to leave visitors wondering how South Africa has managed to put behind it the injustices of the past and build a society based on dignity and equality.
For more information on South Africa and Mandela’s legacy, visit South African Tourism here.