By Tokozile Xasa, Minister
Join me on a journey
to some very special places in our country, places that tell a remarkable story
for the whole world.
tourists, and some South Africans, would have experienced parts of the trip
when they visited the tourist sites that relate the story of our first democratic
President on Mandela Day. I hope that many more will have an opportunity to do so
before Mandela Month draws to a close.
For those of us who
cannot travel right now, let’s start our tour among the rolling hills around
Qunu in the Eastern Cape. Scattered homesteads are sometimes clustered into
little villages reached only by dusty, bumpy roads.
The cattle that you
can see dotted around the landscape would have been tended by a young Rolihlala
Mandela as they grazed all day long, nearly a century ago. There would have
been a small school in this area, where a teacher bestowed the name “Nelson” upon
a young man, little knowing that he was to become a universal symbol of the
spirit of humanity and reconciliation among people.
Places like this
are not just about picturesque hills and sparse dwellings. They reveal layer
upon layer of our history and heritage. They reflect the thoughts and values of
leaders like Nelson Mandela, and convey the collective consciousness of our
You can have an authentic
interaction by living in private homes and local lodges in many rural
communities like these. Here, you can gain first hand insight into how
traditional beliefs and cultural practices intermingle with modern life. You
can understand how the history and hardships of our people guide our
aspirations to transform our economy and bring marginalised communities into
the tourism mainstream.
This place was so
important to former President Mandela that he chose to return here to retire,
after leading a divided nation striving to reconcile itself, and serving our
country as the world’s most revered statesman.
Let’s leave the
quiet rural countryside of Qunu for now, we will return later.
Let’s head north to
Gauteng, to Soweto in Johannesburg. It was here, in Vilakazi Street, that
Nelson Mandela lived in a small red brick house typical of apartheid’s
townships. Further down the road lived Desmond Tutu. Together with church
colleagues and comrades in arms, Tutu and Mandela led the long struggle to tear
down the policies that confined their people to live within their tiny boxes.
Vilakazi Street became the heart of the struggle against apartheid.
Today, the precinct
is bustling with restaurants and street vendors who depend on the busloads of
visiting tourists for trade. It is the only street in the world that was once
home to two Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Most visitors are international
tourists, but more and more of our people are starting to experience the
benefits of exploring their own country as our domestic marketing and
promotional campaigns take root.
traffic through Vilakazi Street means better prospects for the economy of the
precinct. Here, the layer of our historic social struggle is interweaved with many
economic dimensions: the precinct supports jobs, small businesses and many entrepreneurs.
Tourist guides, transport operators and vendors of memorabilia all benefit from
The former home of
Nelson Mandela, and the Vilakazi Street precinct that developed around it,
demonstrates the power of tourism to convert cultural heritage assets into
tangible benefits for communities today.
We leave the city of
Johannesburg and head for the quiet town of Howick in the KwaZulu-Natal
midlands. It was here, along a winding back road, that Mandela was captured by
security police, leading to the Treason Trial, his imprisonment on Robben
Island, and the remarkable transformation in our country following his release.
The capture site is
marked by an iconic sculpture which gives visitors a sense of the important
historic event which changed the course of our history so dramatically. The
tourism economy around the site is not as well developed as that of Vilakazi
Street, but it has become a must-see site for passing tourists.
That single moment
in time, when a policeman stopped a car driven by a man disguised as a
chauffeur, was to become a defining moment in our history.
Standing here at
the capture site, you feel the full significance of that momentous event along
this very ordinary road.
From here, our
journey follows Nelson Mandela to the prison cell he occupied for over two
decades on Robben Island. A short ferry ride from Cape Town takes you to the
island’s small harbour. A tour of the prison conveys the hardship its occupants
were subjected to.
Standing in the
cell that held Mandela captive is an extraordinary, life-changing
experience. You cannot stop thinking
about how someone who was confined to the brutality of this place can emerge
with such humanity, even towards his captors.
forces all of us to look deep within ourselves, and to question our own sense
of humanity towards others. It forces us to discover the Mandela within each of
us, and to express the values he espoused in whatever ways we can.
The penultimate leg
of our trip once again follows the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, this time from
Robben Island to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where the prisoner became the
On the front lawns,
an imposing statue of a smiling Nelson Mandela stretches out his arms,
protecting his people with the warmth it exudes. It is a fitting tribute to
Mandela the man, the statesman, the father of our democratic nation.
From here, we will
make one more stop before our journey ends. We return to a traditional family
gravesite at Qunu, to Nelson Mandela’s final resting place. As his family and
comrades gathered here to return his body to the very soil that sustained his
early life, the nation resumed life without one of the greatest sons of Africa.
But the story is
far from over: Nelson Mandela will be with us forever, through the political
legacy that brought freedom and democracy for all in our country, and through
the many sites that continue to reflect on momentous events in his life. From
Qunu to Vilakazi Street, from Howick to Robben Island and Pretoria, and,
finally back to Qunu, a journey through these sites brings our history and
heritage to life.
I hope that many
more South Africans will be able to make this remarkable journey, during
Mandela Month and afterwards. And I wish that corporate South Africa,
philanthropic foundations and others join hands and work together to make the
trip possible for those who cannot afford to travel, especially our youth.
They will also
return home with a renewed sense of what these sites mean for all of us in
South Africa, and for humanity all around the world.
story of Nelson Mandela, and understanding the values and principles it reveals,
makes each one of us a better person, and this is what makes the world a better
place for all of us.
We end our journey
as changed people, with a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other,
fulfilling the ultimate purpose of tourism.