Madiba’s Effect on SA Tourism

On 18 July Nelson Mandela would have been 101 years old. In celebration of his birthday, and also because July is celebrated each year as Mandela Month, we thought it fitting to pay tribute to South Africa’s great iconic leader with a feature on what impact he has had on SA tourism, during and after his life. This article has been kindly contributed by SA Tourism, South Africa’s national tourism authority.

By Biddi Rorke

Former President Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential leaders of our time and has left an unforgettable legacy. A quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid and the birth of our democracy, the vast majority of tourists – whether they’re international visitors or local travellers – choose to explore and experience the sites and attractions associated with our late global icon.

Prior to Mandela’s release from prison, South Africa’s tourism industry was severely hamstrung. Then, as Colin Bell, one of the pioneers of luxury safari tourism in South Africa told Condé Nast Traveller, “when media images of President Mandela were beamed around the world, the country’s image changed almost instantaneously, and that, together with decades of pent-up demand, meant tourism has flourished”.

Over the last two and a half decades, the relics of apartheid have been transformed into museums and attractions that draw those trying to understand the story of South Africa’s turbulent road to democracy. From the green hills of the Eastern Cape where, as a child Mandela tended cows, to the underground hideouts, and the office of the country’s first democratically elected president, the ‘Madiba Halo Effect’ has shone on the South African tourism landscape.

Top attractions include Robben Island off Cape Town, that drew 49,738 visitors during the 2016 festive season following a multi-million-rand revamp; and Liliesleaf Farm in Johannesburg that provided a secure location where the underground ANC leadership could meet. Over 1,000 tourists visit this significant site every month.The Apartheid Musuem in Ormonde, Johannesburg opened in 2001 and is acknowledged as the pre-eminent museum in the world dealing with 20th century South Africa.

Other notable Mandela-inspired attractions include St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, where apartheid activists used to meet in the basement. This underbelly is now The Crypt Jazz Restaurant where talented local muso’s jam until the early hours of the morning.

Lesser known sites attract robust global interest too. These include Ohlange High School in Inanda, north of Durban, where Mandela voted for the first time on 27 April 1994. He’d chosen to cast his vote at the school founded by the first president of the ANC, John Langalibalele Dube. Another is Aha Bongani Mountain Lodge in Mpumalanga, where Mandela stayed after his release from prison.

As Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, says, “walking in the footsteps of Madiba greatly enriches visitors’ experiences of the attractions associated with one of the greatest men of our time, Nelson Mandela”.

Mandela Immortalised – in bronze, iron and metal




Johannesburg: The iconic Shadow Boxer sculpture by local artist Marco Cianfanelli, dances outside Chancellor House in Fox Street. This is where Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first black law firm in South Africa in 1952.


Tshwane: A nine-metre-tall bronze statue of a smiling Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela dominates the Union Buildings, the spot where he was inaugurated as SA’s first black president.


Kwa-Zulu Natal


Howick: Marco Cianfanelli’s haunting steel construction marks the site where Mandela was captured and arrested by police for his anti-apartheid activism. Created from 50 steel columns that reflect the prison bars of his incarceration, Madiba’s face comes into focus only when you view it from a certain angle. Visitors can walk between the bars to experience the full majesty of this piece.


Eastern Cape


Port Elizabeth: A metal cut-out of Madiba stands at the front of the Voting Line installation, an art work that depicts South Africans who voted peacefully on 27 April 1994. Find this unique piece at the Donkin Reserve, overlooking Algoa Bay.


Free State


Bloemfontein: Standing 8-metres tall, is the imposing statue of Madiba at Naval Hill. Facing the Methodist Church in Waaihoek, where the ANC was established in 1912, this larger-than-life replica depicts Mandela with his fist raised.


Western Cape


Stellenbosch: Landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe created iron silhouettes of Mandela’s face applied to two sides of a wall. The eastern side depicts places of importance in Mandela’s life, including Qunu and Rivonia. The western side reflects the three prisons where he was incarcerated. (Pollsmoor, Robben Island, and Victor Verster Prison – now Drakenstein Correctional Centre).


Paarl: Created by sculptor Jean Doyle, this defiant bronze statue stands at the entrance to the Drakenstein Correctional Centre where Mandela walked out, as a free man, on Sunday 11 February 1990.