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AAt Africa’s Travel Indaba 2018 we embrace African stories. With 21 African nations represented at this year’s event, and with the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary, it’s a time for all of us to reflect on the monumental impact that Africa had for Nelson Mandela, the South African liberation struggle, and the freedom that all South Africans have embraced for the last 25 years.

Nelson Mandela fought for freedom throughout his life. Part of his struggle journey involved the collaboration and inspiration he found in continental unity. The struggle was never fought and won solely within the borders of South Africa. There was immense support from other African states, and not just the ones lying across the border. It was Africa that gave refuge to exiled struggle heroes. It was Africa that helped train soldiers of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). And it was Africa that provided the inspiration to pursue freedom at all costs.

Before he was arrested in 1962, Mandela left South Africa to tour the continent. It wouldn’t be until after his release that he would make a follow-up journey.

1962 – Before his Arrest

Without official South African travel documents, Mandela made his way to Africa via Lobatse in then-Bechuanaland (now Botswana). His ostensible intent was to appear at a conference of the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central, and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA), who were leading the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The underlying purpose of this trip came from instructions from the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe High Command, to help arrange political and economic support for the newly founded military wing.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he said, “I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”

Here is a timeline of his continental pilgrimage:

January – South Africa, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Senegal, Algeria, Nigeria and Kenya

February - Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia

March – Morocco and Mali

April - Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana

May - Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Guinea

June - Senegal, Sudan and Ethiopia

July – Ethiopia, and returned to South Africa and the end of July


1990 – After his release

Eight days after Nelson Mandela was released from prison he was officially issued his first South African passport, which he used to embark on an 18-day tour of the African states that supported the South African liberation struggle.

As he made his way through Tanzania for the first time since 1962, he arrived in the city of Mbeya. This was a cathartic moment for Mandela, marking the first time he had truly felt free. In Long Walk to Freedom, he wrote, “I then truly realised that I was in a country ruled by Africans. For the first time in my life, I was a free man … I felt the burden of oppression lifting from my shoulders … I was being judged for the first time not by the colour of my skin but by the measure of my mind and character.”

His first official passport was put to good use in the years following his release:


June/JulyNelson Mandela embarked on a 6-week, 13-nation tour of Europe, North America and Africa.

9 July – He gave a speech at the 26th Assembly of the Organisation of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


FebruaryNelson Mandela travelled to Lusaka, Zambia to meet ANC officials.

April – A joint conference was brokered by former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, between the ANC and the Pan African Congress (PAC) in Harare, Zimbabwe.

June – Attended the summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Abuja, Nigeria.


February – As part of his international travels, Nelson Mandela visited Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, before heading to Paris to accept the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize.

JuneNelson Mandela addressed the 28th Assembly of Heads of States and government in Dakar, Senegal.

An African success story

The story of Nelson Mandela, the ANC and victory over apartheid is more than simply a South African one. This is a story of African unity, and of African power and triumph. As we celebrate African stories at this year’s Africa’s Travel Indaba, let us never forget the ultimate story that lead to the birth of the new South Africa, the South Africa that manifested through African strength and solidarity.

Throughout his political career, Mandela was a pillar of diplomatic strength, helping to grow a continent geared towards peace, prosperity and progress. In his final address to Parliament as President of the Republic, he said, “I am the product of Africa and her long-cherished view of rebirth that can now be realised so that all of her children may play in the sun.”

South African Tourism has put together a list of 100 destinations that will help travellers “Find the Nelson Mandela in You”. It’s time to #bethelegacy, visit the Campaign Page on or download the Madiba’s Journey app on iOS or Android.

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