In the footsteps of Madiba

A person we can refer to as “a giant” does not often come along; even less so one we can call “a giant among giants”.  Here in South Africa, we have such a person: Nelson Mandela. Or simply just ‘Madiba’ to all who love this great man.


July is that time of the year again when we celebrate the life of one of South Africa’s and Africa’s greatest sons. In South Africa the entire month of July is dedicated to him, while people all around the world celebrate his birthday on 18 July. Although Mandela passed away almost 8 years ago, his spirit and his friendly face, his legacy of peace and reconciliation, are still present everywhere, all around the world, but especially so in his own South Africa. In fact, one could construct an entire travel itinerary based solely on places to do with Mandela or his legacy in South Africa.

Here an entire city is named after him – Nelson Mandela Bay – which includes the former Port Elizabeth, now named Gqeberha. In the same city you will also find the Nelson Mandela University. In fact, everywhere you look in South Africa, you are likely to find our smiling, waving Madiba dressed in his trademark ‘Madiba shirts’. These were specifically designed for him although different people have claimed the honour.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about that:  “According to Yusuf Surtee, a clothing-store owner (in central Johannesburg) who supplied Mandela with outfits for decades, the Madiba design is based on Mandela’s request for a shirt like Indonesian president Suharto’s batik attire. Fashion designer Desré Buirski presented this type of shirt (and her contact information) to Mandela as a gift on 7 May 1994 by getting it to a bodyguard during a visit to a Cape Town synagogue; Mandela wore the shirt to the dress rehearsal for his presidential inauguration. (Clothing designer) Sonwabile Ndamase said he ‘was the first to do it’ in 1990.”

Internationally you will find Madiba’s statues everywhere, from the United Nations Headquarters in New York to Ramallah in the West Bank of Palestine, to the South Bank in London, the SA Embassy in Washington, the Liberdade area in Salvador in the Northeast of Brazil, Parliament Square in London, in The Hague and many other cities and countries. But if you want to follow something of a “Madiba Route” based on his statues and other tributes in South Africa, why not start with the Madiba statue in the Ohlange High School in Inanda, Durban. The school was established in 1900 by John Dube, the first president of the ANC that governs today, and his first wife, Nokutela. It is the place Mandela chose to cast his vote for the first time ever in the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.

Not far away is the extraordinary sculpture of Nelson Mandela by artist Marco Cianfanelli in the shape of 50 steel column constructions, each between 6.5 and 9.5 metres high, in the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands just outside Howick. This is the site where Mandela was arrested by Security Police on 5 August 1962. He spent the next 27 years in jail.

From here you can travel south-westwards to the Eastern Cape, to Madiba’s place of birth at Mvezo where a giant statue of him stands outside the Mvezo Komkhulu Museum. Not far away at Qunu, where he lies buried, you will find more Madiba magic. In fact, a local tour operator, Imonti Tours, offers a unique Mandela Early Childhood Tour around the region following in Mandela’s younger footsteps. Then it’s on to East London (Buffalo City) and its Wall of Fame in Heroes Park. Here too Mandela features prominently amidst many other struggle icons. Next stop is Nelson Mandela Bay where you will find the Nelson Mandela Voting Line Sculpture. The sculpture by artists Anthony Harris and Konrad Geel shows a 38m-long metal sculpture that connects South African figures of all shapes and sizes together in a voting queue that leads to a victorious metal cut-out of Nelson Mandela.

There’s another statue of him here as part of the Route 67 Public Art Works project by the Mandela Bay Development Agency’s (MBDA) urban revitalisation project. Also in this city is a life-sized statue of him in the city’s major sports stadium named after him.

Next, we travel on to Cape Town. Here you will find Madiba’s cell in the prison on Robben Island with its museum, a favourite with tourists from everywhere. There’s a Mandela statue in front of Cape Town’s City Hall, in front of Parliament, at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre between Paarl and Franschhoek where he was once an inmate, and at Nobel Square in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront where he shares space with fellow South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Desmond Tutu, FW De Klerk and Albert Luthuli. In front of the Town Hall of nearby Stellenbosch you’ll find him too in what is known as Mandela Memorial Square.

Now we hit the N1 going north. In Bloemfontein we pay a visit to a giant statue of Madiba on Naval Hill, from where he stands watching over the city, his arm raised with that familiar clenched fist.

In Johannesburg we also find Madiba everywhere, from Mandela the young boxer in front of the downtown Magistrate’s Court near where he once worked as a young lawyer. In Sandton we find him as a dancing giant in Nelson Mandela Square. We can also visit the erstwhile law offices of Mandela and Oliver Tambo in downtown Johannesburg, or his early home at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Soweto, both now museums. At the Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Hill we can learn a lot more about him and his part in the liberation struggle.


There’s also Mandela’s former residence in Houghton as well the Nelson Mandela Bridge that connects Newtown and Braamfontein in downtown Johannesburg. At Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg, we find the young Mandela on the run from the authorities, living here under the assumed name of David Motsamayi in 1961, posing as a gardener.

And finally, we end our Madiba Journey in Tshwane (Pretoria) in front of the Union Buildings, seat of the President of South Africa. It is here were Mandela addressed the world during his inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected, black president in 1994. Today he still stands here as a very much larger than life statue. And just for good measure, you also find his friendly face on every South African money note!

These are just a few of the places where you will find Madiba around South Africa. Google it and you will find many, many more.

From us, we once again salute you Madiba – happy, happy birthday!