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Celebrate Nelson Mandela at These 7 Key Sites in South Africa

Written by Going Places

This blog post was updated on July 12, 2023.

“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela, June 1999

There are plenty of reasons to want to visit South Africa, from the vibrant culture to the jaw-dropping beauty of the land. But for those with an interest in African history and culture, there’s also the draw of celebrating Nelson Mandela. Mandela was one of the most influential and revered leaders of the 20th century. He played a crucial role in dismantling apartheid and promoting racial reconciliation in South Africa. Visiting the country where Mandela’s struggle for freedom took place allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the historical context and the impact he had on the nation.

Of course, Mandela’s legacy extends far beyond South Africa. His fight for justice, equality, and human rights has inspired people worldwide. Traveling to South Africa allows you to witness firsthand the impact of his work and the ongoing efforts to preserve his values and ideals.

July is a great time to visit South Africa, of course, because the country celebrates Mandela Day on July 18th. This day serves as a call to action for individuals to make a positive impact in their communities, following Mandela’s example. Traveling to South Africa during this time allows you to participate in various events, volunteer opportunities, and charitable activities dedicated to honoring his legacy.

Here are seven places of particular interest to those wishing to learn about and celebrate Mandela’s legacy:

Apartheid Museum — Johannesburg

“Flags of Hope,” an art exhibition outside the Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg allows visitors to experience a powerful and immersive journey through South Africa’s apartheid era. Through thought-provoking exhibits and multimedia presentations, the museum offers a comprehensive understanding of the impact of apartheid on individuals and the nation. Visitors can explore the rise and fall of apartheid, witnessing firsthand the discrimination, segregation, and struggles faced by millions of South Africans.

The museum showcases artifacts, photographs, and personal accounts, providing a glimpse into the lives of those affected. Additionally, interactive displays and audio-visual installations foster empathy and reflection. Visitors can also learn about the anti-apartheid movement and the heroes who fought against the oppressive regime, including Nelson Mandela. The Apartheid Museum serves as a powerful educational tool, promoting dialogue, understanding, and a commitment to human rights and social justice.

Mandela Capture Site — Howick

The Mandela Capture Site marks the location where Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962, after evading capture for 17 months while leading the struggle against apartheid. Visitors can explore the captivating sculpture at the site, created by artist Marco Cianfanelli, which consists of 50 steel columns that align to form an image of Mandela when viewed from a specific angle. This artwork symbolizes Mandela’s unyielding spirit and the sacrifices made by many in the pursuit of freedom. The site also features an informative exhibition that delves into the events leading up to Mandela’s arrest and the subsequent impact on the struggle against apartheid. It offers a unique opportunity to reflect on Mandela’s courage, resilience, and his enduring legacy as a symbol of freedom and equality.


Robben Island Museum — Cape Town

At the Robben Island Museum, located off the coast of Cape Town, you can experience a poignant and informative journey through South Africa’s history. The museum offers guided tours, led by former political prisoners, providing firsthand accounts of the experiences they endured on the island. Visitors can explore the maximum-security prison, including Nelson Mandela’s cell, gaining insight into the harsh conditions and an appreciation for the resilience of those who fought against apartheid. The tour also covers the island’s broader history, including its use as a leper colony and military base. The museum offers a comprehensive perspective on the struggle for freedom and the triumph of democracy, showcasing exhibits and displays that highlight the anti-apartheid movement and the pivotal role played by individuals like Mandela.


Mandela House, Vilakazi Street — Soweto

Nestled in the vibrant and influential city of Soweto is Mandela House, Nelson Mandela’s home from 1946 until his arrest in 1962. Humble and unassuming, Mandela House was one of the most important locations in Mandela’s life. Upon leaving prison, Mandela said that he knew he was a free man when he returned to the home and that it was always the heart of his mental geography. Now a museum, Mandela House bears the scars of its famous owner’s fight for freedom. Burn marks from Molotov cocktails still sear the outside walls of the home, while bullet holes also remain in several bricks. Refurbished to appear just as it did when Mandela lived there in his early days, the house also contains a collection of countless photographs of the Mandela family and many of the awards and honors bestowed upon its most famous patriarch.

Liliesleaf Farm — Rivonia

Tourists hoping to get a greater understanding of anti-apartheid resistance and Mandela’s place of leadership in the movement should head to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg. Liliesleaf Farm was established as a safe haven for leaders of the African National Congress, an anti-apartheid resistance group that regularly used the farm to debate their political message and plan how to resist the South African government’s repressive laws. Mandela lived at Liliesleaf under an assumed name, disguising himself as a farmworker. In 1962, many of the leaders of the African National Congress were arrested for treason at Liliesleaf and subsequently sentenced to decades in prison. Evidence from the raid was also used to implicate Mandela, who spent over 27 years in prison.

Liliesleaf has been painstakingly restored to how it appeared in the 1960s. Tours of Liliesleaf focus on the history of the African National Congress and Mandela’s role in the group. Visitors to the farm can tour Mandela’s room and also check out exhibits that include video interviews with social justice warriors who fought in the struggle against apartheid.

Chancellor House — Johannesburg

Situated in the Ferreirasdorp neighborhood of Johannesburg is Chancellor House, one of the most important sites in the early days of Mandela’s life. It was at Chancellor House that Mandela and his partner, Oliver Tambo, founded the first Black-owned law firm in South Africa in the 1950s. As a lawyer, Mandela used his legal prowess to fight against the oppressive policies of apartheid. A recent renewal effort has restored the building to how it would have appeared at the height of Mandela’s career.

The first floor of Chancellor House houses a museum detailing Mandela and Tambo’s legal work on behalf of the people of South Africa, with a pictorial timeline of their endeavors. Mandela and Tambo’s offices on the second floor have also been fully restored, allowing guests to take in Mandela’s day-to-day life as a young lawyer and advocate for the people of South Africa. Visitors with an interest in art will also enjoy a 20-foot sculpture of Mandela boxing that sits directly outside of Chancellor House. Boxing was one of Mandela’s favorite hobbies and the Chancellor House sculpture is styled as an homage to a famous photograph of Mandela during a training session.

Constitution Hill — Johannesburg

One of the most important sites in the history of South Africa, Constitution Hill stands as an enduring testament to the sacrifices made by those who stood up for human rights and dignity in the anti-apartheid movement. Built in the 19th century, Constitution Hill served as a prison for most of the 20th century and was the location that held Mandela during his 1956 treason trial and after his arrest in 1962. The building is now a museum and home to South Africa’s Constitutional Court.

Tours of Constitution Hill provide a sobering reminder of the atrocities of apartheid. Guided explorations of the prison’s Number Four section, which housed Black inmates, show the appalling conditions present in South Africa’s apartheid penal system and demonstrate how Black prisoners were treated far more harshly than their white counterparts. Perhaps most stirring of all is the symbolism of lawyers and judges following in the footsteps of Mandela at the Constitutional Court, fighting for the equality in the very place where Black citizens were once abused and persecuted.

Have you ever been to any of these sites celebrating Nelson Mandela? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

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