15 Inspiring Nelson Mandela sites in South Africa

15 Nelson Mandela sites in South Africa

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela

No other person has had such a powerful impact on modern day South Africa as Nelson Mandela. And although we lost him in 2013, his legacy still lives on all over our country in the places that shaped him and monuments that celebrate him. We also commemorate his birthday on 18 July every year by volunteering 67 minutes for the benefit of others. Why 67 minutes? Because Nelson Mandela spent 67 years in public service, campaigning for the human rights of his fellow South Africans.

Known affectionately by terms such as Tata and Madiba (meaning Father), here are 15 Nelson Mandela sites in South Africa that will give you more insight into this remarkable leader. Some are justifiably famous, while others are less well-known.

1. Robben Island, Cape Town

Nelson Mandela sites

Robben Island (cc: South African Tourism via Flickr)

"During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Mountain at its magnificent silhouette … To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return." Nelson Mandela.

This is where Madiba was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years that he was incarcerated. Today, Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a must-visit site in Cape Town. A ferry will take you to the island, where you can go on a guided tour and even see Nelson Mandela’s former cell, a 7-by-9-foot room, with just a sleeping mat and a bucket toilet .

2. Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick

Nelson Mandela sites

Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick

The Nelson Mandela Capture site just outside Howick commemorates the spot where Madiba was finally captured by apartheid police on 5 August 1962 after being on the run for over a year. This arrest was one of several that eventually led to the Rivonia Treason Trial and his imprisonment for 27 years. The impressive sculpture consists of 50 steel columns, strategically arranged next to each other. They look like a random collection of columns until you get to the footpath 35 metres away when Madiba's profile facing West magically appears - against the backdrop of the rolling hills and valleys of the Kwazulu Natal Midlands. As you get even closer to the monument, the columns once again dissolve into a forest.

3. Mandela House Museum, Soweto

Nelson Mandela sites

Mandela House Museum, Soweto

The most famous street in Soweto, Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world which once housed two Nobel Prize laureates, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. No 8115 was the house of Nelson and Winnie Mandela from 1946 until the 1990’s, although he was in prison for a large chunk of that time. The house is now a museum containing memorabilia belonging to the Mandela family.

4. Constitution Hill, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela sites

Constitution Hill, Johannesburg

Constitution Hill was originally built as a fort under Paul Kruger but became notorious as a prison during the apartheid era. Mandela was imprisoned here twice - in 1956 and 1962. Another famous prisoner who was incarcerated there was Mahatma Gandhi. The eternal flame of democracy burns in the courtyard. It was lit in 2011 by Madiba at his Eastern Cape home.

5. Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela sites

Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia

Nelson Mandela lived at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, disguised as a gardener, while hiding from the police. This is where incriminating evidence was found during a raid and subsequent search, which led to the eleven Rivonia Trialists (as they were known) including Mandela, being charged with conspiring against the apartheid government. Eight were sentenced to life in prison. Two were acquitted and charges against the last were dropped. Those who received life sentences ended up serving between 22 and 27 years. Nelson Mandela was the last of the Rivonia trialists to be released - in February 1990.

6. Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela sites

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

The Apartheid Museum tells the story of how the human spirit triumphed over adversity and oppression. It walks one through the apartheid era and the rise of black consciousness, and culminates with the release of Nelson Mandela. Every South African, and visitor to South Africa, should visit this museum at least once to understand what our nation has been through and why our current achievements mean so much more.

7. Chancellor House, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela sites

Chancellor House, Johannesburg

Chancellor House is a modest three-storey building in Fox Street that was home to Mandela and Tambo Attorneys , the first black legal practice in the country at the height of apartheid. The ground floor of the building now serves as a museum. Outside the building, you will see Shadow Boxer, a statue by artist Marco Cianfanelli who also designed the capture site monument. It stands between Chancellor House and the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. The statue honours which honours Mandela , the amateur boxer, and symbolises Madiba's fighting role in the struggle against apartheid. His words are etched on the concrete plinth. “In the ring, rank, age, colour, and wealth are irrelevant”.

8. Groot Drakenstein Prison, Paarl

Nelson Mandela sites

Groot Drakenstein Prison, Paarl (cc: HelenSTB via Flickr)

This was the last place where Mandela was incarcerated. He served the last 14 months of his 27-year imprisonment in a house on the grounds of the prison, which was then known as Victor Verster Prison. In 1990, he finally walked through these gates to freedom. There  is a life-size bronze statue of him with his fist raised at the prison gates.

9. City Hall, Cape Town

City Hall Cape Town

City Hall Cape Town (cc: Barry Ne -Wikimedia Commons)

Nelson Mandela stood on the balcony here and gave his first speech, hours after his release, to thousands of people. A life-size statue of him overlooks the Grand Parade from the balcony of the City Hall, standing in the same place where he spoke from.

10. Union Buildings, Pretoria

Union Buildings

Union Buildings (cc: Haruba-bad - Wikimedia Commons)

This is where Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994. A nine-metre high bronze statue of him, the tallest one in existence stands at the foot of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. His arms are outstretched to symbolise his embrace of the whole nation. One leg is in front of the other to show a nation on the move.

11. Nelson Mandela Museum, Qunu

Nelson Mandela Museum, Qunu

Nelson Mandela Museum, Qunu -cc: South African Tourism via Flickr)

This museum, in Nelson Mandela’s birthplace, contains several exhibitions detailing his life and journey. It is close to the place where he grew up, the ruins of his former school and the home that he built in his latter years. One can see the gifts he received from people, institutions and governments around the world. His grave lies 5km away and is visible from a viewing deck.

12. Donkin Reserve , Port Elizabeth

Nelson Mandela sites

Donkin Reserve , Port Elizabeth

The Donkin Reserve overlooks Nelson Mandela Bay and is part of Route 67 – a collection of 67 works of art  dedicated to Nelson Mandela's 67 years of public work.  The Voting Line is an art installation in the reserve which consists of 59 life-sized figures circling the base of the giant flag pole, symbolising the 1994 elections. At the front is a metal cut-out of Nelson Mandela standing tall and proud with his clenched fist raised in the air.

13. Naval Hill, Bloemfontein

Nelson Mandela sites

Naval Hill, Bloemfontein (cc: Diether via Wikimedia Commons)

Naval Hill is a hill in Bloemfontein, where British naval guns were once used during the Anglo-Boer War. It is part of the Franklin Game Reserve, the only nature reserve in the world in the middle of a city. On the hill is an eight-metre high replica of Mandela with his fist raised in the air, overlooking Bloemfontein. It faces the Waaihoek Methodist Church, where the ANC was founded.

14. V & A Waterfront , Cape Town

Nelson Mandela sites

Nobel Square, Waterfront, Cape Town

Nelson Mandela’s statue stands alongside those of South Africa’s three other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates at the V & A Waterfront , a sprawling harbour-side shopping centre. The others are Desmond Tutu, FW De Klerk and Albert Luthuli.

15. Nelson Mandela Square, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela sites

Nelson Mandela Square

Nelson Mandela Square is a shopping and restaurant hub in Sandton, Africa's richest square mile, with a 6m-tall statue of Nelson Mandela in the square.

To learn more about Nelson Mandela, read his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. If you prefer a more concise rendition of his life, then watch Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the movie.

For more Nelson Mandela sites , download the Madibas Journey app which lists 100 sites of historical significance.

Have you visited any of these Nelson Mandela sites ? Are there any other sites which I should add to this list?

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Nelson Mandela sites

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4 comments on “15 Inspiring Nelson Mandela sites in South Africa”

  1. A really interesting list. I would love to be able to take my children here one day. They are learning about Mandela in school at the moment, and his autobiography is one of the most moving books I have ever read. Thank you for sharing this inspiring and educational itinerary.

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