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HHome to glorious stretches of beaches, mountainous terrains, jaw-dropping rock formations, a rich catalogue of plant and wildlife which includes the Big 7 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo, Southern Right whales and Great White sharks), South Africa’s Eastern Cape province is also the birth place of the late global icon and humanitarian - Nelson Mandela. The acclaimed leader, whose birthday is celebrated globally through acts of kindness on 18 July, was born and raised amongst this province’s lush valleys and winding rivers.
Madiba, as he was fondly referred to by many, held the Eastern Cape in high esteem and spent much of his downtime at his private residence in the rural village of Qunu.
As part of this year’s Mandela Day celebrations, here are a few of Madiba’s favourite experiences — curated with the help of his close family and colleagues. These experiences, paint a picture of a remarkable man whose life was firmly rooted in his birth place and who cherished simple pleasures around him:
- Fond childhood memories in “My great grandfather’s contribution to the history of South Africa was proof of his love for our beautiful country. He, especially, held the following places in rural Eastern Cape in high regard: Qunu, the birthplace of his mother, Mqhekezweni, where he grew up under the stewardship of his cousin Chief Jongintaba; and lastly his birthplace Mvezo.” Ndileka Mandela, Granddaughter
Qunu is a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, marked by lush rolling hills, dotted with large smooth rocks which once served as young Madiba’s playground. Qunu is also where Madiba’s remains were buried.
- Returning home to celebrate. “I remember when Madiba’s 87th birthday was approaching, and the world’s media was in a frenzy trying to find out what Madiba would be doing for his birthday that year. They had not been told that he wished to, yet again, visit Mvezo in the Eastern Cape. Not only was Mvezo his much-cherished birthplace, but it is also one of three homes to the multi-faceted Nelson Mandela Museum. Upon our arrival at Mvezo that day, Nelson Mandela insisted on being introduced to each of the almost-hundred children who had gathered at his homestead to greet him. I cannot think of a more apt description of humility and humanity, two traits that he embodied in his daily interactions,” Verne Harris, Head: Leadership & Knowledge Development at the Nelson Mandela Foundation
Mvezo lies on the banks of the Mbashe River, also in the Eastern Cape province, and boasts picturesque landscapes laden with profound historical and spiritual lessons. While touring the ruins of the original Mandela Homestead, where the hut in which Mandela was born stands dilapidated, expect to be welcomed by a land that depicts barrenness, lushness, and healing.
- Simple, yet meaningful meals. “For celebrations and special occasions, Tata Madiba would always insist that I prepare Oxtail stew with a side of dumpling or umngqusho. His guests, however, always gravitated towards the Oxtail dish despite having a wide variety of options to choose from. Tata was a man of simple food choices, with his favourite meals ranging from ulusu (tripe) to umphokoqo (crumbly mealie meal pap served with sour milk). I specifically recall one of his Presidential visits to London in the late 90s, which stands out as the most hilarious. Tata had relayed a message through his personal assistant saying he missed home and specifically craved umphokoqo. I prepared the pap, exactly how he liked it and packed the sour milk separately — wrapped it into a parcel — and we sent it to London under the guise that the package contained Tata Madiba’s medication,” Xoliswa Ndoyiya, Madiba’s former personal chef.
According to Ndoyiya, Madiba found traditional food comforting, saying it brought him closer to South Africa no matter where in the world he was. With a culinary landscape as varied as South Africa’s, influenced by the diverse cultures under the South African sun, visitors are bound to find something that tickles their palates. For more of Madiba’s culinary preferences, check out Ukutya Kwasekhaya, compiled by Ndoyiya and Anna Trapido.
- Music to Madiba’s ears. “I knew my great grandfather was happy whenever I’d hear him belt out a Miriam Makeba song or some South African choral music. His wicked sense of humour and mischievous young energy remain my two favourite traits of his [chuckles]. He never missed an opportunity to share anecdotes about growing up in the Eastern Cape’s countryside and the different people he’d met around the world.” Ndaba Mandela, Grandson
Music played a pivotal role in raising awareness about South Africa’s apartheid era, with many international musicians contributing to the fight in song. The late Miriam Makeba, one of South Africa’s biggest global exports, was among the influential musicians whose jazz and world music sounds highlighted the atrocities of the apartheid regime. Madiba strongly believed that these songs contributed immensely to his release from prison in 1990.
Madiba’s pivotal career moments have been beautifully captured through various attractions around the Eastern Cape. Below is one worth visiting when in Port Elizabeth:
DONKIN RESERVE. The Donkin Reserve forms part of Route 67, a historical and modern trail consisting of public artworks symbolising the 67 years Nelson Mandela dedicated to serving humanity. Also found in the Reserve is the Voting Line Sculpture, which pays homage to the late President Nelson Mandela. The nearby lighthouse, built in 1861, is open to the public and serves as the official Tourist Information Centre.
More than being home to this global icon, the Eastern Cape also boasts a wide variety of experiences to be explored. When the time to travel comes, South Africans look forward to not only exploring their own country again but to also warmly welcoming all travellers. So when booking the next trip to explore South Africa do make sure that this includes Madiba’s home province. There is a lot more to enjoy including:
ADDO ELEPHANT PARK. The game park is home to over 550 elephants, as well as the Cape Buffalo, Black Rhino, a variety of antelope species and the unique flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo. While here, also catch sightings of the Big 7, which include the elephant, lion, rhino, leopard, whale and the Great White Shark.
VALLEY OF DESOLATION. Located inside the Cambedoo National Park in Graaff-Reinet, South Africa’s fourth oldest town, the Valley of Desolation is also known as the ‘cathedral of the mountains’. The piled dolerite columns stand like sentries against the Groot Karoo plain and allow for endless panoramic views of dry plains from its viewpoint cliffs.
SURFING AT JEFFREYS BAY. J-Bay as it is commonly known to locals, is located an hour away from the city of Port Elizabeth. Renowned for its pristine beaches and inviting waves, Jeffreys Bay is considered one of the best surfing spots in the world. It provides the ideal ground for novice surfers to hone their skills, while also offering advanced surfers an opportunity to experience some blood-pumping action in the warm Indian Ocean.
BUNGEE JUMP OFF BLOUKRANS BRIDGE. The highest commercially built bridge in the world, standing at 216 meters above the Bloukrans River, the Bloukrans Bridge Bungy experience is a thrill-seeker's ultimate playground. If not in a daring mood this bridge also makes for the perfect setting for some awesome Instagram-worthy photographs with sweeping, lush valley views as your backdrop.