Nelson Mandela - Towering Man of the People


Visitors: 560

Nelson Mandela is still to this day a very powerful figure in world politics. Not necessarily these days in the Government itself, but as a symbol of hope over struggle, this man commands a respect not often given to other retired leaders.

Nelson Mandela's name, searched on Google throws up 961,000 references to him in just 81 seconds. People are still facinated by this man, by his life and his incredible charisma and how this one person could have changed the history of one country so dramatically, to give it the chance of survival in the 21st century.

On visiting Cape Town, one of the many attractions which people queue 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 his 27 years of incarceration.

Tokyo Sexwale, a former prisoner on the island wrote these eloquent words which sum up the bleakness experienced by everyone who spent time there:

"Deep into the icy waters of the Atlantic

Somewhere around the Cape of Storms

Encaged by rocky beaches all around

Assaulted by piercing winds from the Benguelo

Like an abandoned Ship

Lies the Island of the Damned"

Today, a tour round Robben Island is one of the most rewarding attractions on offer in Cape Town. Whisked by modern ferries across the expanse of water in around half an hour, you get the chance to explore the infamous maximum security prison, interact with ex-political prisoners and get a feel of what it would have been like to live there, just as Mandela did.

A little known fact about the island is it's abundance of marine, bird and wildlife. African penguins have been re-introduced after extinction in the 1800's and have established a breeding colony. 132 different bird species, as well as 23 species of mammals makes this island a haven for those people interested in the environment.

References to Nelson Mandela's life in Cape Town don't stop there. Take the Footsteps to Freedom tour. This city walking tour takes you on a guided stroll through historic Cape Town, telling the story of the city's early Dutch and British settlers, slavery in the Cape, the rise and fall of apartheid and South Africa's new democracy.

What a great way to learn the layout of the city and at the same time really live in the shoes of people who change 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 out at Drakenstein. Drakenstein is about an hour and a half drive out of Cape Town, on the road between Paarl and Franschhoek. The drive itself is a thing of beauty, through the winelands to the mountains beyond.

The museum is the old Victor Verster prison in which Mandela spent the last few years of his incarceration before his release in 1990. At the moment, the only way to visit is by prearranged appointment only, but will be developed as a National Heritage site. Visit now whilst you still have the chance of peace to reflect and contemplate reconciliation, human rights and justice.

Helen Palmer is the author and webmaster for , whose family's love of Cape Town was spawned some 30 years ago, when her aunt moved there to live. Regular visits and a genuine love of travel persuaded Helen to share her passion.


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