In the footsteps of Nelson Mandela

By Dorine Reinstein
While South Africa and the world mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela, an increasing number of people are expressing the wish to know more about the life of this great man and great leader.

To really get an insight into what this icon of history has achieved for his country and for the world, travelers will need to explore the whole of South Africa. Dotted across the country are places of great interest that will show visitors the legacy of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s journey through racial prejudice and segregation to freedom.

Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg.Although most travelers tend to see Johannesburg as a compulsory stopover en route to more interesting destinations within South Africa, the City of Gold has a lot to offer for those wanting to learn more about the man known affectionately as “Madiba.”

A good first stop in Johannesburg would be Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, which was for many years the meeting place and hideout for members of the African National Congress. South African government security police arrested the members of the anti-apartheid group at this site. This led to the Rivonia Trial, resulting in Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu being sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.

The next stop is Constitution Hill, a site that remembers the horrors of the past and yet embraces the promises of the future. It is home to the Old Fort prison complex of Johannesburg, the Women's Goal prison and the Constitutional Court, the birthplace of South Africa’s democracy. The museum section of Constitution Hill includes the Mandela Cell, which features a documentary of his incarceration and his emotional return 40 years later.

The Soweto area of Johannesburg is a must when learning about Mandela. House 8115 Vilakazi St., Orlando, Soweto, is where Mandela lived, on and off, for more than 14 years prior to his arrest in 1962. Visitors will get a glimpse of the Mandela family’s life during the oppressive years of apartheid by way of audiovisuals, photographic galleries and live guides. Mandela called it “the center point of my world.” Also in Soweto are the Hector Pieterson Museum, the Regina Mundi Church and the Apartheid Museum.

First stop outside Johannesburg is Howick, in the midlands of KwaZulu Natal. The Mandela Capture Monument was erected here to remind visitors of the place where the anti-apartheid activist was apprehended while driving incognito from Durban to Johannesburg. Mandelahad been on the run from the Security Police for 17 months at that point.

In Durban, the Ohlange Institution houses the Mandela voting site; an imposing statue of the soon-to-be president casting his first vote can be seen at the center. It reminds visitors of a truly historic day in the history of South Africa when Mandela declared: “This is, for all South Africans, an unforgettable occasion. It is the realization of our hopes and dreams that we have cherished over decades. The dreams of a South Africa, which represents all South Africans. It is the beginning of a new era."

Nelson Mandelas cell at Robben Island.Mthatha is where travelers can visit the Nelson Mandela Museum. This facility gives a true overview of 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, a Qunu component and an open-air museum at Mvezo, where he was born. The museum offers visitors several tours, including a hiking day-trip around Qunu, where visitors tour sites such as the stone church where Mandela was baptized and the sliding rock where he used to play with other children.

A tour of the history of the country in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela would not be complete without a visit to Robben Island in Cape Town. This former prison that represents a critical chapter in the country's path towards democracy offers a unique glimpse into the immense sacrifice made by Mandela and his comrades. Visitors to the island are able to see the cell in which Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year incarceration.

South Africa has numerous accommodations options for travelers along this historical route, from luxurious hotels to backpacker options. However, to truly connect with the country and learn about its history, why not stay at a rural Xhosa homestay? A homestay will enable guests to experience traditional village life in an authentic way. Bulungula Homestay offers a great experience for travelers who truly want to connect with the Xhosa people, of which Nelson Mandela was a part. Accommodations are in simple huts, which feature two single or one double bed and bedside table with a little lamp. Each homestead has a compost toilet. A hot-water shower is shared between two homesteads. For more information, visit http://bulungulahomestay.wordpress.com/.

Operators have started offering Nelson Mandela Tours. Here are a couple of examples:

SAA Vacations is offering a 10-day Mandela’s Journey to Freedom package starting at $2,599. Package highlights include a cultural tour of various townships in Cape Town as well as Robben Island. Other features include a tour of Liliesleaf. The package concludes with the moving and inspiring Journey to Freedom tour, which includes visits to the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. To book the tour, call 855-FLY-SAAV, or visit http://flysaavacations.com/south-africa-travel/mandelas-journey-to-freedom/.

Great Safaris also offers a new South Africa Tour, Madiba’s Journey: In Nelson Mandela’s Footprints. The 11-day itinerary begins with an educational tour of the country and wraps up with a relaxing four-day visit to the Greater Kruger National Park for an authentic South African safari. Land costs start at $3,495 per person, based on double occupancy, with options to upgrade.
For more information, contact Dave Herbert at info@greatsafaris.com.

 

Fast Facts

• Languages: South Africa has 11 official languages. English is widely spoken across the country.

• Climate: South Africa has a temperate climate and is known for its long, sunny days. Most of the provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape (winter rainfall). Winter is from May to August, spring from September to October, summer from November to February and fall is from March to April.

• Currency: South Africa's currency is the rand, which offers visitors great value for money. The rand comes in a range of coins (R1 is equal to 100 cents) and in note denominations of R10, R50, R100. There are ATMs in all cities in South Africa. Credit cards are widely accepted, especially MasterCard and Visa.

• Getting there: The major air hub for South Africa, and for the entire surrounding region, is Johannesburg Airport. Cape Town Airport receives numerous direct flights from Europe and is becoming an increasingly important gateway.

From the U.S., the only direct flights to South Africa are with South African Airways and Delta Air Lines. SAA flies from New York Kennedy and Washington Dulles, Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg.

• Health precautions: Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but always check with the game reserves you're planning to visit and take precautions if necessary. There are many world-class private hospitals and medical centres around the country, especially in the urban centres. A yellow fever certificate is only required for travelers arriving from a yellow fever-infected area in Africa or the Americas.

• Visas: U.S. citizens don't require a visa for South Africa 
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