The name of the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner should ring a bell with everyone. Nelson Mandela is remembered globally for his efforts in fighting against apartheid in South Africa.
While being celebrated as the founding father of democracy in South Africa, Nelson Mandela has also been described as a freedom fighter and a guerilla terrorist. With such a wide range of opinions there are many details of his life and work that are absolutely worth exploring further. If you one day should find yourself in Cape Town or Johannesburg for either business or leisure, we propose you visit some of the following sites to see where not only own his own story, but the history of South Africa was written.
1. Robben Island
The Rivonia Trial of 1963 and 1964 led to Nelson Mandela being convicted of waging a guerrilla war against the government. He was sent to the prison on Robben Island outside Cape Town where he was physically and verbally abused and had to endure hard labor in the quarry. When he arrived on the notorious island he was told ‘This is the Island! Here you will die!’ Little did they know that he would emerge 27 years later as a hero. Today Robben Island is a South African National Heritage Site as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with educational tours and ferries departing daily.
For easy access to Robben Island book the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, just a short walk from the ferry departure point on the V&A Waterfront. Robben Island is also on our top 10 list of why Cape Town should be on your bucket list.
Robben Island Museum | Robben Island
2. District Six
District Six in Cape Town was a vibrant community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, laborers and immigrants, until 1966 when the government declared it a whites-only area. Over 60,000 people were removed and relocated and their houses bulldozed. The area was left undeveloped until recent years, and in 2004 Nelson Mandela handed the keys over to the first returning residents. The District Six Museum was established to help us remember the events of the apartheid era and the community that once resided in the area. Through the museum’s visually rich permanent and changing exhibitions you can revisit various aspects of life and culture in District Six.
District Six Museum | 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Eastern Cape & Kwazulu Natal:
3. Nelson Mandela Museum
Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in the little village of Mvezo in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and later moved to the nearby village of Qunu where he would herd cattle and play with friends in the rolling green hills. This is also where his teacher gave Nelson his English name during the first day of school. After the end of his long imprisonment he returned to Qunu, and today it’s home to the Nelson Mandela Museum. The museum is a memorial to his values and vision and hosts physical artifacts from his life, as well as serving as a center for learning.
Nelson Mandela Museum | Nelson Mandela Drive & Owen Street, Mthatha, Eastern Cape
4. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site
After having avoided being captured by the police during his 17 months on the run, Nelson Mandela and a fellow activist found themselves arrested on the road outside Howick on August 15, 1962.
In 2012 a memorial site was unveiled at the site of the capture, including a powerful sculpture made by artist Marco Cianfanelli. The sculpture comprises of 50 steel columns between 6.5 and 9.5 meters tall that when seen from the sculpture’s main focal point, creates an iconic image. Whether you’re into art or history, this is an attraction that will cater to both interests.
Nelson Mandela Capture Site | R103, Howick, Kwazulu Natal
5. The Mandela House
In the Soweto township of Johannesburg you can visit the tiny house that Nelson Mandela moved to in 1946 with his first wife Evelyn. Two years later South Africa expanded its racial segregation with a system of laws called apartheid, which empowered whites over other races, and especially blacks. Nelson and his companions started taking direct action against apartheid. Nelson and Evelyn later divorced, and his second wife Winnie joined him in the house. As Mandela’s life became more and more consumed by political activities he was forced to go underground in 1961 and he was on the run until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.
During his 27-year long imprisonment, Winnie and their daughters remained in the house. After his release in 1990 he returned to the house for 11 days before finding a safer place to live. In 1997 the Mandela House was turned into a museum, and visitors can still see bullet holes and marks from Molotov Cocktails on the brick walls.
The Mandela House | 8115 Vilakazi Street, Soweto
6. The Nelson Mandela Center of Memory
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, a ‘facilitator of his living legacy’, runs the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. While their website is a massive resource for all things related to the man, it’s also possible to visit them in Johannesburg to explore their interactive exhibitions and actively engage with history. In the permanent exhibition The Life & Times of Nelson Mandela you can step into his post-presidential office exactly as he left it.
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory | 107 Central Street, Johannesburg
7. Liliesleaf Farm
In the 1960s the South African Communist Party bought Liliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg with funds smuggled from the Soviet Union. It acted as a hideout and meeting place for activists from the African National Congress who operated from Liliesleaf for over two years until their arrests.
The farm and its many buildings remains one of the best places to visit to get an understanding of South Africa’s struggle for liberation, with self-tours and group tours available. For accommodation close to Liliesleaf Farm, stay at the Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton which is just 15-minutes away on the M9.
Liliesleaf | 7 George Avenue, Rivonia, Johannesburg
8. Constitution Hill and the Old Fort
Constitution Hill with the Old Fort has in the past been used as prison and military defense post. In later times it has acted as a transitory prison where prisoners were held while awaiting their sentencing. Among the detainees were Nelson Mandela and his comrades while waiting for the Rivonia Trial to begin. The prison is today a museum that offers a guided tour called A Walk With Madiba. Madiba was Mandela’s clan name representing his ancestry and often used as a sign of affection from the people.
Constitution Hill | 11 Kotze Street, Johannesburg
9. The Apartheid Museum
The best place to learn about recent South African history is the Apartheid Museum complex in Johannesburg, which illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid. As you enter the museum you are ushered through one of the two entrances labeled ‘White’ and ‘Non-White’, and as you move through over 20 exhibitions you get a glimpse of what life must have been like for many South Africans under apartheid. The most popular part of the museum is the Nelson Mandela exhibition, which features a life-map of the humanitarian icon.
The Apartheid Museum | Northern Parkway & Gold Reef Road, Johannesburg
10. Nelson Mandela Square
If you want to get a picture of yourself with the man himself you should head over to Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg. Here a six-meter and 2.5-ton statue of the former president greets you, created by South African artists Kobus Hattingh and Jacob Maponyane. The Sandton City Mall and a range of designer stores, boutiques and eateries surround the square, making it the perfect place to wind down after a day exploring museums and historic sites.
The Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel is only a few minutes walk from Nelson Mandela Square, an ideal location for holiday guests and visitors on business trips.
Nelson Mandela Square | Johannesburg
We hope that these 10 tips have inspired you to dive into the history of South Africa and learn more about the life and work of Nelson Mandela. If you are planning a trip to Cape Town or Johannesburg, South Africa will not disappoint, no matter what you chose to explore!