On your safari in South Africa, you are bound to meet Nelson Mandela on his travels. He remains to this day a very powerful figure in world politics. Not necessarily these days in the government itself, but as a symbol of hope about the fight, this man commands a respect not often accorded other retired leaders.
The name of Nelson Mandela, searched on Google returns 961,000 references to him in just 81 seconds. People are still fascinated by this man, by his life and his incredible charisma and how this person could have changed the history of a country so dramatically, to give it a chance to survive in the 21st century.
When visiting Cape Town, one of the many attractions that people line up to experience is Robben Island. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island during the winter of 1964. Conditions were harsh on the island, where Mandela was forced to spend 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment.
Tokyo Sexwale, a former prisoner on the island, wrote these eloquent words that summarize the desolation experienced by all those who spent time there:
“Deep in the icy waters of the Atlantic
Somewhere around the Cape of Storms
Caged by rocky beaches all around
Assaulted by penetrating winds from the Benguelo
like an abandoned ship
lies the island of the damned”
Today, a tour of Robben Island is one of the most rewarding attractions on offer in Cape Town. Propelled by modern ferries across the expanse of water in about half an hour, you get the chance to explore the infamous maximum-security prison, interact with former political prisoners, and get a sense of what it would have been like to live there, just like Mandela did. .
A little known fact about the island is its abundance of marine life, birds, and wildlife. African penguins have been reintroduced after their extinction in the 19th century and have established a breeding colony. 132 different species of birds, as well as 23 species of mammals make this island a paradise for those interested in the environment.
References to Nelson Mandela’s life in Cape Town don’t stop there. Take the Steps to Freedom tour. This city walking tour takes you on a guided walk through historic Cape Town, telling the story of the city’s early Dutch and British settlers, slavery on the Cape, the rise and fall of apartheid, and the new South African democracy.
What a great way to learn the layout of the city while also really living in the shoes of the people changing history.
If you want to take the Nelson Mandela tour one step further to its conclusion in the Western Cape, why not visit the new Mandela House Museum in Drakenstein? Drakenstein is about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town, on the road between Paarl and Franschhoek. The journey itself is a beautiful thing, through the vineyards to the mountains beyond.
The museum is the former Victor Verster prison in which Mandela spent the last years of his incarceration before his release in 1990. At the moment the only way to visit is by appointment, but it will be developed as a National Heritage site. . Visit now while you still have the chance of peace to reflect and contemplate reconciliation, human rights and justice.