Johannesburg is Africa's economic powerhouse known to locals as Joburg, Jozi and Egoli (the ‘city of gold’). The city is modern and enormous, sprawling in all directions as the heart beat of commerce demands more offices, houses and malls. About 60 kilometres away lies Pretoria, which is the seat of administrative government in South Africa and a very pretty city with jacaranda-lined streets. Both of these urban centres are vibrant and cosmopolitan, linked by a fast-moving, multi-lane highway and the high-speed Gautrain, making it easy to explore the places that played a critical role in Nelson Mandela’s life story or which honour his legacy.
We recommend focusing on the experience rather than worrying about getting from A to B, which means a specialist guided tour that Go2Africa can arrange for you. Together with your guide, you can set about exploring the fascinating and poignant sites below:
Lilliesleaf Farm: where Mandela disguised himself as a worker to hide from police
Lilliesleaf acted as the ‘nerve centre’ for the anti-apartheid liberation movement and served as a safe house for many years. It was the scene of the dramatic arrest of key African National Congress campaigners and leaders who were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment after the so-called Rivonia Trial. When he needed a secure place from which to operate, Mandela lived here under the assumed name of ‘David Motsamayi’ as a worker in blue overalls who was ostensibly employed by the owner to look after the farm. Lilliesleaf is eight kilometres from the Sandton Gautrain station - a taxi cab ride if you are not on a guided tour.
Mandela House: home of Mandela family from 1946 to mid-1990s
Affectionately known by residents and locals as 'Vilakazi Street’, this is the only road in the world that has been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners: the Mandela family lived here from 1946 until the 1990s, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also has a house here. A simple, red-brick structure, Madiba donated the house to the Soweto Heritage Trust in 1997 and today it operates as a museum and gathering point for those who want to pay tribute to him.
Apartheid Museum: lest we forget
Designed to give visitors a visceral sense of the apartheid policy of segregation that was enforced in South Africa from 1948 until 1994, the world-renowned Apartheid Museum has a new exhibition documenting Mandela’s struggle against racial discrimination. Because of the violent context of some of the exhibits, it is not recommended for children under 11.
Hector Pieterson Museum: one of the first people killed in the 1976 Soweto Uprising
As Kim Phuc, the naked girl running from napalm strikes, become the iconic image of the Vietnam War, so a dying 13-year-old Hector Pieterson carried in the arms of his brother is one of the seminal shots of the apartheid era. He was one of the first pupils shot in the 1976 Soweto Uprising, when thousands of students protested against new government regulations that would see the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools. Today, 16 June is commemorated as Youth Day in South Africa in memory of Pieterson and other students’ sacrifices. The museum is located two blocks from where Pieterson was shot and killed.
Union Building: where Mandela was inaugurated and lay in state
A massive sandstone neo-classical edifice, the Union Buildings were completed in 1910 when modern South Africa was created from four separate states and lies two kilometres from the Pretoria city centre. It is the seat of the national government and the site where Madiba was inaugurated as president in 1994 and where he lay in state in 2013. There is a nine-metre-tall statue of him in one of his unmistakeable ‘Mandela shirts’ in the gardens, which are open to the public.
Nelson Mandela Square: home to one of the first statues of Madiba erected in South Africa
Although it is located in an upmarket shopping centre, a trip to Nelson Mandela Square is a fun way to get photograph of the huge statue of the great man that dominates the square while also having some retail therapy and grabbing a bite to eat. His life is definitely a cause for celebration as well as serious reflection!
Nelson Mandela Bridge: symbolic of the unifying force that Madiba was
Built to connect the inner-city areas of Braamfontein and Newton and spanning over 40 railway tracks that run below, Nelson Mandela Bridge is often lit up in colourful displays and serves as a practical symbol of how boundaries can be bridged. Newtown is a popular with students and young revellers, and is a great place to catch up with South African jazz and live music on the weekend.
Constitution Hill: home to a permanent Mandela exhibition that includes his letters
Constitution Hill refers to a collection of buildings that includes the Old Fort where many political prisoners were held and is also the seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country. There is a permanent exhibition called ‘Nelson Mandela: Prisoner in a Garden’ that details his life as a convict in the Old Fort and on Robben Island, and which includes some of fascinating and heart-wrenching correspondence with the outside world.
These memorials may be too widely spread out to visit them all in a day, it's well worth seeking out a few of these special places to deepen your experience and understanding of South Africa's journey from institutionalised racism to having the world's most advanced bill of human rights enshrined in its constitution. We recommend adding a professionally guided township tour to your 'Mandela footsteps' to enrich your experience of South Africans at a grassroots level. After a day of serious and light hearted moments, there's no better place to celebrate the rainbow nation at Nelson Mandela Square, under the joyful gaze of the great man himself, enjoying fusion cuisine at an award winning restaurant surrounded by the brightest and beautiful residents of 'Egoli', the City of Gold.