Meeting Mandela Is Unexpected Highlight of South African Tour



WAYZATA, Minn. -- A group of Travel Beyond customers on a tour of South Africa in January unexpectedly met President Nelson Mandela during an up-close and personal visit in the Nobel Peace Prize winner's home.

Travel Beyond, based here, said the meeting came about as a result of serendipitous timing.

Rodney Grubb, a professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., was leading a group of 20 college alumni and friends on a tour that highlighted places of historical importance in the life of the South African leader.

On Jan. 25, Travel Beyond said, the group was visiting Qunu, a village in South Africa's Transkei where Mandela was born in a hut that since has been torn down.

A meeting with Mandela was not part of the plan, but in a happy accident of fate, the president happened to be in Qunu on the same day and invited the group into his home there for a 45-minute reception.

From Travel Beyond's report, the president was as gracious and charismatic as one would expect.

According to Travel Beyond, Grubb took a moment to apologize to Mandela for past American foreign policies that helped support South Africa's apartheid regime, to which Mandela replied, "Oh, that was long in the past. We are looking to the future now."

The tour in which the group participated was a modified version of a 15-day In the Footsteps of the President tour, which Travel Beyond arranged for the St. Olaf group through Kei Safaris.

In addition to spotlighting points of historical interest relating to Mandela and the antiapartheid struggle, the tour is designed to expose visitors to some of the country's more scenic areas and wildlife centers.

In addition to Qunu, historical sites visited included Robben Island, where many antiapartheid leaders were incarcerated; Lovedale College, where Mandela received his primary education; Fort Hare University, where Mandela and many of today's African leaders studied; Victor Verster Prison, from where Mandela was finally released, and the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where Mandela was inaugurated as president of South Africa in 1994.

Some of the other tour components include the Shamwari Game Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park, Tsitsikamma National Park, the Karoo, the Garden route, Johannesburg and Soweto.

Travel Beyond said the tour can be modified to suit the interests, time and budgets of individuals or groups.

The St. Olaf group was on a 12-night tour priced at $2,450 per person, based on double occupancy, for the land portion of the trip.

This included daily breakfast, seven lunches and five dinners.

To book, call (800) 823-6063.

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