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TThe Nelson Mandela Bridge is located at the heart of downtown Johannesburg, a relatively new landmark in the city skyline. It sits at the centre of a massive rejuvenation drive in Newtown and Braamfontein, filled with sites of cultural and historic significance – and the bridge is the conduit for traffic crossing the railway lines that separate the 2 areas.
Of the many buildings, roads, squares and bays named after the first democratically elected president of South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Bridge is perhaps the most fitting tribute to this great man. This modernistic new overpass symbolically links the old and new as it ushers traffic into the heart of rejuvenated downtown Johannesburg.
The structure, which cost R38-million, is the largest cable-stayed bridge in southern Africa.
Vast quantities of construction material went into this feat of engineering: 4 000 cubic metres of concrete, 1 000 tons of structural steel and 500 tons of construction steel. The result is an impression of delicate weightlessness, belying the sturdy pathway it creates between the old and the new.
The bridge is 284m long, 42m tall at the north pylon and 27m tall at the south pylon.
It accommodates two lanes of traffic in either direction, as well as reserved lanes for pedestrians and cyclists. Rumbling beneath are more than 40 train tracks heading in and out of the commuter hub of Johannesburg.
The bridge links the Newtown Cultural Precinct – home to Mary Fitzgerald Square, the historic Market Theatre, Museum Africa and Gramadoelas Restaurant – with lower Braamfontein, another site of renewal encompassing the Constitutional Court, the University of the Witwatersrand, the Joburg Theatre and several pubs and eateries.
This new Johannesburg landmark was part of the Blue IQ initiative, which poured over R500-million into the rejuvenation of the downtown area (Blue IQ has since merged with the Gauteng Development Agency to become the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency).
Nelson Mandela himself officially opened the bridge on 20 July 2003.
TTravel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Drive a car or catch a metered taxi or Uber to Braamfontein. The Nelson Mandela Bridge is at the end of Bertha Street. You’ll also go over the bridge as a part of many Johannesburg tours, and nearby Park Station offers access via the Gautrain.
Best time to visit
By day to absorb the hustle and bustle of downtown Johannesburg, or drive across by night to see the bridge gloriously illuminated against the evening sky.
It’s worth taking a look at the bridge on foot if you’re there during the day, but finding parking in downtown Johannesburg can be tricky. Your best bet is to park at the nearby Market Theatre and walk the 500m to the bridge.
Around the area
Braamfontein and Newtown are filled with sites of historic and cultural interest including The Market Theatre, Mary Fitzgerald Square, Museum Africa, Constitution Hill and the Joburg Theatre.
Tours to do
The Nelson Mandela Bridge is part of many tours of Johannesburg and Soweto, so ask your tour operator for a route that passes this landmark.
What to pack
Sturdy walking shoes or boots, a hat and sunscreen.
Take note, however, that purse-snatchers and pickpockets have been known to target the unwary in this area; keep valuables in the boot of your car or out of sight under the seat when driving, and keep cameras, phones and other valuables secure and your eyes open when on foot around the bridge.
What to eat
The famous Gramadoelas Restaurant is nearby (next door to the Market Theatre) and serves delicious foods from across Africa. There are also plenty of coffee shops and fast-food outlets in the area.