One of the greatest thrills of my life was meeting former South African President Nelson Mandela in 2003 when he was checking into the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg and I was checking out. As I stood in the lobby awaiting my airport transfer, Mandela ambled in. I gazed in awe, seconds later gathering myself enough to smile and extend my arm for a handshake. While the encounter lasted less than five minutes, the privilege of meeting a man of such unwavering courage and resilience stays with me as if it were yesterday. And so, when Recommend received an invitation from South African Tourism to travel on their Madiba’s Journey itinerary, celebrating the global icon’s legacy by visiting the places across South Africa that helped shape the story of his life just four years after his death, and the publication asked me if I was able to attend, I jumped at the chance to go.
I embarked upon a 2-week voyage, visiting a handful of the 100 tourist attractions featured in the recently relaunched (and free) Madiba’s Journey app, created by South African Tourism in collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The app highlights 100 historic landmarks and sites that influenced Madiba during this centenary year of his birth from the Eastern Cape to Johannesburg to Cape Town and beyond. (Madiba is Mandela’s Xhosa clan name and is considered a title of respect and affection.) Travel advisors with clients who want to follow in the footsteps of Mandela can offer South African Airways Vacations’ 10-day Celebrating Mandela’s 100th itinerary, starting at US $2,499 pp.
The itinerary takes visitors to buzzy Nelson Mandela Square in upscale Sandton, Johannesburg (where we stayed at the excellent DaVinci Hotel & Suites), the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto (a tribute to the children killed during the Soweto Uprising of 1976), Robben Island off the shores of Cape Town (where Mandela was held prisoner for 18 of his 27 years in captivity), and the Iziko Slave Lodge, a former slave quarters that’s now a museum of slavery, also in Cape Town. Also included in the 100 attractions are the informative Mandela House Museum in Soweto, and St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, whose basement was once used as a meeting place for apartheid resistance activists, and has now been transformed into The Crypt Jazz Restaurant, a popular club where Cape jazz musicians jam into the wee hours.
Other notable highlights include Mandela’s house in the quiet suburb of Houghton in Johannesburg, where he lived with his third wife Graca Machel; Constitution Hill in downtown Johannesburg, where hundreds of political prisoners were held including Mandela, now home to South Africa’s Constitutional Court; and the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick, about an hour’s drive west of Durban. Here, a small museum has been set up near a giant sculpture by Johannesburg artist Marco Cianfanelli, constructed from 50 steel columns cut by laser to form an image of Nelson Mandela when viewed at the correct angle. The sculpture stands along a stretch of dirt road at the exact spot where, in August 1952, Mandela was captured and arrested by police after a 17-month pursuit for his anti-Apartheid activism. For aficionados of both art and South African history, I highly recommend a visit to this site. (Note: Tell clients to wear a hat and walking shoes as there is little shade here and it’s a short hike to get a good view of the sculpture.)
On the second to last day of my Madiba’s Journey tour, we enjoyed a Public Art City Tour on Route 67 at the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. It’s called “Route 67” because it consists of 67 public art works that symbolize Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of work dedicated to South Africa’s freedom struggle.
The most prominent work here, in my view, is the steel sculpture called Voting Line, which consists of a likeness of Nelson Mandela next to that of everyday South Africans, a tribute to the thousands who participated in the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994. Route 67 forms part of the greater Nelson Mandela Bay Arts Journey, which includes a number of galleries and museums in Port Elizabeth such as the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum, the newly renovated Athenaeum Building, the Red Location Museum, Uitenhage Market Square and the artEC art gallery. Travel agents can book guided tours of this heritage trail route for their clients through Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism.
The nearby Boardwalk Hotel with its elegant lobby, spacious rooms, and sweeping outdoor patio overlooking beautiful Hobie Beach was the ideal end to my South African adventure following in the footsteps of the great leader.
South African Airways (SAA), the leading carrier from New York to South Africa with the only nonstop daily flight, offers roundtrip to Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Durban, South Africa.