Nelson Mandela Square, formerly known as Sandton Square, is one of the busiest shopping hotspots in Johannesburg. Not only because its boutiques and top-notch restaurants attract locals and foreigners but because it’s home to the magnificent bronze Nelson Mandela statue. Sculpted by Kobus Hattingh and Jacob Maponyane and unveiled on 31 March 2004, it’s 6m high and weighs 2.5 tons. The gigantic Madiba is one of the most popular attractions in Sandton, drawing visitors from all over to see it up close and take photos.
There’s no question about it, Madiba was one of the most influential leaders of our time and left an unforgettable legacy. The Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory in Houghton has been set up in his post-presidential office to keep his memory alive through exhibitions and talks. If you’re interested in history or simply want to find out as much as possible about Nelson Mandela, then this is the place to visit.
This site marks the spot where Nelson Mandela was taken into custody by on 5 August 1962. The police flagged him down as he was driving past disguised in a chauffeur’s uniform on the R103 road near Howick. Other than the unusual sculpture of his profile that’ll have you captivated (just a warning, there’s quite a walk to get to it), there’s an exhibition of his life and free tours are offered.
We mentioned the Nelson Mandela statue overlooking Nelson Mandela Square, but the Union Buildings in Pretoria are also home to a bronze statue of Madiba. At 9m-high, it’s the tallest statue of our former president in the world. It depicts Mandela with his arms outstretched, symbolising his embracing of the nation. He has one foot in front of the other indicating a nation on the move. This statue is at the foot of the Union Buildings on the spot where Mandela was inaugurated as our country’s first democratically elected president in 1994. It has replaced that of former prime minister James Barry Hertzog, which has been moved to a new place on the premises. Mandela was often at the Union Buildings during his presidency, his official residence was nearby, and at the end of his life, the buildings also housed his body which lay in state there for three days.
An engineering masterpiece honouring Madiba is the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Newtown (Johannesburg CBD). Gracing the Joburg skyline, it’s 282m long and the largest cable-stayed bridge in Southern Africa. The bridge connects the suburbs of Newtown and Braamfontein and was officially opened by the former president himself on 20 July 2003. This is a must-see, especially at night when it’s beautifully lit up in the colours of the rainbow.
Step back in time by visiting the Mandela House at 8115 Vilakazi Street, which was our former president’s residence from 1946. This is where he lived with his first wife, Evelyn, and later his second wife, Winnie, and their two children. Now a museum, it’s filled with Mandela family memorabilia, as well as historical photographs. The house has been carefully restored and preserved and gives visitors great insight into Madiba’s life.
A trip to Cape Town is not complete without visiting the well-known World Heritage Site, Robben Island, and the Robben Island Museum, which sheds light on Madiba’s years in prison. You can see the tiny cell where he spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence, and browse through the interesting history that has been documented at the museum. You’ll also gain insight into the life and struggle of other heroes such as Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Clarence Makwetu and more. Today, this museum stands as a beacon of hope.
Qunu is where Mandela spent his childhood and is now also the location of the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre. It was built on the ruins of his primary school and also near to where Madiba had a house after his release from prison. This centre comprises a museum, a restaurant, community and sports halls and craft-manufacturing buildings. There are guided tours and heritage trails conducted from the centre that allow you to follow in his footsteps to the places that were special to him.
If you happen to be taking a stroll through the V&A Waterfront, stop at the Nobel Square to see the sculptures of our country’s four Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Standing next to each other in a row, you’ll see Nelson Mandela, the late Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk. The larger-than-life statues pay tribute to these iconic men, recognised by the world for their dedication to peace and democracy.