Nelson Mandela is the most globally recognisable South African and an icon for peace and reconciliation. He is affectionately known as “Madiba”, after the name of his clan, and is regularly referred to as the Father of South Africa.
It is safe to say he is globally loved. To put his popularity into perspective, around the world Nelson Mandela has 23 schools, universities and institutions named after him. Add to this, 25 buildings and monuments; 13 stadiums, squares, plazas, parks, and gardens; 91 streets, roads, boulevards and parks; 1 entire municipality; 32 bursaries, scholarships, foundations and lectures.
We’ve put together our list of the most visit-worthy Madiba related sites in South Africa, and we highly recommend adding them to your travel plans.
1. Mandela Capture Site, Howick
Nelson Mandela was arrested on the 5th August 1962 outside Howick, Natal. He spent the next 27 years of his life in prison. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site commemorates this moment in history with a visitor centre and world-renowned sculpture.
The exact spot on the R103 outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal was originally commemorated by a simple plaque in a brick wall, but now features a globally recognisable sculpture consisting of 50 laser cut steel columns between 6 – 9 metres high spaced over a 30 metre area. The sculpture, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of Mandela’s arrest, was designed by Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose.
2. The Shadow Boxer Sculpture, Johannesburg
Located outside Chancellor House, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo started the first black legal practice during the 1950s in apartheid South Africa, sits the Shadow Boxer Sculpture. Standing 6 metres tall, the sculpture is inspired by a famous photograph by Drum photographer Bob Gosani.
The sculpture is made up of metal layer sheets to give it both two and three-dimensional views. Beneath the statue are inscribed Mandela’s words, “In the ring, rank, age, colour, and wealth are irrelevant”. When asked about his love for boxing, Mandela once said, “I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match”.
3. Robben Island, Cape Town
By far the most globally known location linked to Nelson Mandela, Robben Island sits 12km offshore from Cape Town. The island was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 1999. While the island was used as a place to house “unwanted” people from the mid-1600s, it is most famous as the prison where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 27-year sentence. Tours to Robben Island are incredibly popular and visitors get to learn about the history of the island and a visit to Mandela’s prison cell.
4. Union Buildings Statue, Pretoria
At nine meters tall, this bronze sculpture is the tallest statue of Nelson Mandela in the world. Unveiled on the 16th December 2013, the Day of Reconciliation, marking the end of the ten days of mourning following Madiba’s passing.
The statue was designed by two sculptors, Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, and shows Mandela with his arms open wide, symbolic of the great man’s ideals of unity. The statue
Following Madiba’s inauguration as head of state of a new South Africa in 1994, the location of the inauguration at the Union Buildings was renamed “Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre”. The Union Buildings is also where Mandela lay in state from 11 to 13 December, allowing for thousands of people to pay their respects to the “father of the nation”.
5. Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
Constitution Hill is a living museum that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort which incarcerated thousands of people including Nelson Mandela preceding his treason trial. The site is now home to the Constitutional Court, and the prison complex reimagined into a tourist attraction featuring a museum and formal exhibits highlighting the history of the area.
While Nelson Mandela was a famous prison inmate, the list of other notable prisoners includes Mahatma Gandhi, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Fatima Meer. In 1958 the jails held 2,000 women detained for protesting the pass laws. Constitution Hill now serves as a global beacon for human rights, democracy and reconciliation, driven by public participation.
6. Mandela House Museum, Vilakazi Street, Soweto
In 1946, Nelson Mandela moved into 8115 Orlando West, a house on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane streets in Soweto. After his release prison in 1990, Mandela returned to the house for 11 days before moving into his house in Houghton. He said this, “That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”
Members of the Mandela family continued to live in the house right up until 1996 when Nelson and Winnie divorced. It was then that the house was turned into a public heritage site, with Nelson Mandela as the founder Trustee.
7. Long Walk to Freedom Statue, Paarl
Situated outside the Groot Drakenstein Prison in Paarl (formerly named Victor Verster prison where Mandela spent his last few years in prison) you’ll find an incredibly symbolic statue of Nelson Mandela to commemorate the unforgettable day when the soon-to-be president of South Africa took his first free steps after 27 years in prison.
The statue was commissioned by businessman Tokyo Sexwale and designed by Jean Doyle. There is a lot of symbolism in the pose chosen – Madiba’s first is raised proudly in the air which he did when we walked out of the prison in 1990. Mandela is also walking to represent his long walk to freedom, with his left foot forward to represent his political leaning. At the unveiling, Tokyo Sexwale cheekily described the walking statue as, “anti-bias, anti-oppression and anti-exploitation. And right must follow left” which drew a smile from Mandela.
8. Lillieslief Farm, Rivonia
Most widely known as a safehouse for African National Congress activists in the 1960s, Lillieslief Farm is now a museum and heritage site. Nelson Mandela needed a safe place from which to operate and lived on the farm under the assumed name of David Motsamayi, a farmer hired to work on the farm. In 1963 police raided Lillieslief farm after receiving a tip and arresting 19 members of the underground.
Nelson Mandela was already serving a prison sentence for leaving the country, but during the raid the police found documents hidden in the coal bunker which they used to incriminate Mandela, resulting in him being charged and brought to trial where he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
9. Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton
Unveiled in 2004 to coincide with South Africa’s 10 years of democracy celebrations, this 6 metre tall Madiba statue stands tall over the European-style piazza. The square is surrounded by restaurants and you’ll often see kids playing in the fountains or having their photo taken standing next to Madiba.
The statue was sculpted by Kobus Hattingh and Jacob Maponyane and proudly looks over one of the busiest shopping centres in Africa.
Ahmed Kathrada, a former Robben Island prisoner and ANC stalwart said, “While we will not forget the brutality of apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument to our hardship and suffering. We would want Robben Island to be a monument reflecting the triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of non-racialism over bigotry and intolerance. A triumph of a new South Africa over the old.”