Nelson Mandela was the first black chief executive and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election in South Africa. An icon, both in his native land and the world as a whole, he’s widely recognized as a leader in the fight for equality, democracy and peace. Uncover the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela during our Africa Safari and Wildlife Cruises.
The Life of a Revolutionary
Born in 1918, a Xhosa member of the Thembu tribe, he helped to bring about an end to South African apartheid, through both peaceful protests (including opening South Africa’s first black law firm and offering free or low-cost legal counsel) and later, armed resistance (after the deadly Sharpeville Massacre). Imprisoned for decades, Mandela remained a powerful presence even behind bars and his celebrated release ultimately led to a new era of peace for South Africa, commonly referred to as the Rainbow Nation.
There are many rewarding sites to visit and pay homage to the great South African leader, including cherished murals and statues erected throughout the country and its largest cities. Here are a few must-see memorials and tributes:
A Former Prison Island
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and a South African National Heritage Site, this island-prison just off the coast of Cape Town was once home to Nelson Mandela from 1964-1982. He was subsequently transferred to another prison before his release in 1990 – but here he was confined to a small concrete cell, without plumbing and only a straw mat for sleep. He and his fellow inmates had to do hard labor, breaking rocks into gravel and later, working in a lime quarry. Political prisoners were often jailed here, including Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, who would also go on to the most powerful office in the land as future Presidents of South Africa.
The jail is now a museum, with tours led by former inmates who share their compelling stories. A visit inside Nelson Mandela’s cell, kept as it was during his incarceration is quite a moving experience. A multimedia exhibit encourages guests to learn more about the history of the island and prison.
Mandela in Johannesburg
Also known as Jo’burg, Jozi or even Joni as some locals like to call it. South Africa’s largest city, it is also the city the young Mandela arrived at as a young man and resided in his later years. There are a number of important sights in the surrounding areas.
Nelson Mandela Square
A public square and shopping center with fine dining, luxury boutiques and designer labels, located in the hub of one of South Africa’s most affluent neighborhoods. A statue, roughly 20 feet high, of the Mandela takes center stage. It is located in the Sandton area of Johannesburg.
The Apartheid Museum
Along with a popular exhibit on Mandela, the Apartheid Museum celebrates the resistance efforts of the entire anti-apartheid movement and shines a light on the oppressive discriminations of the past and how South Africa is working towards a future for all its citizens. Film, photography, text, audio and artifacts will leave a profound impression for all. Moving exhibits start as visitors gain entrance to the building, with two entrances labeled “White” and “Non-white.” Depending on which tickets you’re randomly issued, you’ll be ushered through one of the two.
Soweto: The Mandela House
Now a public heritage site and a national monument, this was the home of Nelson Mandela and his family from the 1946-1990’s (although Mandela himself spent many of these years on the run and as a political prisoner). This was the home he returned to after his release from incarceration. Audio-visuals, photographic galleries and live guides give an intriguing and rare glimpse into the Mandela’s family life during his years fighting apartheid. Soweto, bordering Johannesburg’s mining belt, is also the location of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings against apartheid and Desmond Tutu’s former residence.
Visit these iconic sites before or after AmaWaterways' itineraries such as Discover Africa, Rivers & Rails of Africa, Wildlife and the Falls, Stars of South Africa and Golden Trails of Africa. Reserve your 2025 river cruise journey before December 31, 2023 and save with our Early Booking Reward!