As we celebrate Nelson Mandela Day on July 18, it is important to reflect on the legacy that he has left. Nelson Mandela International Day (or Mandela Day) is an annual international day in honour of Nelson Mandela, celebrated each year on 18 July, Mandela’s birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010.
Madiba gave a culturally diverse nation of 50-million its strongest sense of purpose and to set an example for the world of how South Africa – one of the world’s most beautiful countries, overcame oppression through dialogue, an unwavering commitment to peace and through united determination to build a future that we can all be part of and it is something we are proud to share with the world.
Whether you are visiting South Africa for the first time or whether you are touring the country you call home, you will no doubt download the new app launched by South African Tourism (SAT) in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It focusses on Madiba-inspired tourist attractions and it features tourist sites as well general places of interest in the four provinces that defined Mandela’s life. From the UNESCO World Heritage Site Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, where he was imprisoned, to Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he was born, spent his boyhood and was laid to rest in December, 2013.
On your travels you will encounter many colourful people such as Tracey Rapelego, a tour guide at Liliesleaf in Johannesburg, where prominent liberation leaders sought refuge before their arrest in 1963. Mr Mandela himself hid from apartheid security forces there, masquerading as a gardener to avoid recognition by the army and police.
Tracey says being a tour guide at Liliesleaf gives her an opportunity, twenty years after democracy, to put her skills, patriotism and boundless admiration for Nelson Mandela to the service of people coming to our country. “People come here whether from down the road or around the world because Madiba fascinates them. When you come to Liliesleaf you have the opportunity to walk where he walked and sit where he sat. I do this job because I love seeing the wonder, awe and reverence on peoples faces to see this spot that became so definitive of the man Madiba became.”
Another poignant site along your journey is the Nelson Mandela Capture Site. It was here, in 1962, that Madiba was captured after having been on the run for more than 17 months from a regime determined to hunt him down. Speaking to Christopher Till, founding Director of the Apartheid Museum and Project Director of the Capture Site, his passion for South Africa’s rich heritage becomes apparent. “South Africans and tourists visit the site to pay homage to a great man and they are visibly moved when they do so. On days such as Madiba’s birthday they come to lay flowers and wreaths in remembrance of all that Nelson Mandela embodied.”
Christopher commissioned South African artist Marco Cianfanelli to create a sculpture that amplifies Nelson Mandela and the place where he was incarcerated. Today, more than three years after it was unveiled, the Capture Site sculpture has become iconic of South Africa; an internationally recognised symbol and a place that draws thousands to the small town of Howick in Kwa-Zulu-Natal province.
“I felt it was imperative to establish a monument and heritage site befitting the stature of Nelson Mandela at the place that he was arrested and where his long walk to freedom actually began. People from all over the world come to see the sculpture and reflect on the life on this great man. It marks an event that was pivotal in the life of Nelson Mandela, it molded him and shaped the direction of the country.” he says.
Joe Motsogi has been a tour operator on Vilakazi Street for the past 17 years and he is one of those memorable people that come across whilst using the app. Vilakazi Street in Soweto is one of the most famous streets in the world as it is where two Nobel Peace laureates, Nelson Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, made their homes.
“I love my job and it’s a privilege to be part of history every day. Visitors that come to Nelson Mandela’s house are so moved that they just want to touch the ground where he walked and be photographed next to the portraits of him to show they were here,” he says.
“It truly is a life changing experience for me, when I was growing up Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to me. He instilled a belief in me that with hard work comes success and that education is the cornerstone of every society.
“Visitors who come here want to know all they can about Madiba and what he was like. Especially how he could emerge from prison with no hatred or resentment but holding fast to a spirit of forgiveness, modesty and reconciliation. I say South Africa is a unique country, unlike any other in the world. It is the people of South Africa that sets us apart. It truly is a welcoming and embracing nation,” he continues.
Another highlight on your travels will be Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum where you will meet Mduduzi Christopher Tshabalala who has been a tour guide there for the past 10 years. Mduduzi’s passion for what he does it tangible and it is quite evident that he thoroughly enjoys being there and interacting with visitors and tourists from all walks of life on a daily basis.
“Working here has helped me understand the difficulties our country has encountered and overcame to be where we are today. It is remembering that it is not as much about the past as it is about the present and the future,” he says. Visitors to the museum, whether local or international always want to know about Nelson Mandela, what he was like and what he stood for.
“This is easy to do as there is only one Nelson Mandela and he played a tremendous role in unifying our country, earning him the respect of people across the world. Today he is an international icon and it is a privilege for me to be part of history and sharing his legacy of peace, reconciliation and freedom with visitors to the museum.
“Working here has had a big influence on me as a person and it has taught me to think before I speak. Not only weapons but words can easily spark violence, always think about the consequences of what you have said. Working as a tour guide you can impact positively or negatively on the tourists and visitors. What you say will stay with them so it is important to reiterate peace, understanding and diversity because that will be their last impression when they leave,” he says.
Nelson Mandela may be an international icon and a world-renowned statesman. But to South Africans, he is the much loved, and deeply missed, grandfather of the nation. Whilst visiting these interesting sites are awe- inspiring, it is clear that South Africans have invested their hearts in keeping Madiba’s legacy alive. South Africa is a diverse and colourful nation whose biggest asset is indeed, the people.
This is evident in the array of welcoming and sincere people you encounter across the country whilst meeting South Africa. They are eager to share their experiences with you, to enable you to gain an understanding as to what drives our rainbow nation forward. We look forward to welcoming you and sharing these experiences with you.