While not only about Nelson Mandela, this fascinating museum recreates what life was like for both black and white South Africans under apartheid.
It gives an excellent idea of what Mandela and other activists were fighting against and of their ideals for the future. Walking into the museum is an eerie experience as the entranceway is divided -- a gateway for blacks and a gateway for whites. It seems hard today to believe that such a system existed, but this museum lays it all out.
Constitution Hill is the site today of South Africa's Constitutional Court, which is regarded as a post-modernist architectural icon. If you're lucky, you might be able to listen in briefly on a constitutional hearing in the main chamber, and the court has a celebrated art collection.
The older buildings have a more ominous history. Built in 1892 under the old Boer Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, many of South Africa's most famous political prisoners, including Boer war leaders, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, spent time in the Old Fort Prison Complex. A tour through the old prison gives you a sense of South Africa's layered and complex past.
Out in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg is the famous Liliesleaf Farm. It was some 12 miles outside the city in the 1960s and was purchased by the South African Communist Party with secret funds smuggled in from the Soviet Union. Arthur Goldreich, a white communist, fronted as the owner of the farm while Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other prominent ANC activists hid from the police in the outbuildings.
Many political discussions were held in the main house and by 1963, it was becoming clear to the ANC that they were putting themselves under too much risk. It was too late, on July 11 of that year, the police swooped in and arrested a number of top ANC leaders. Mandela was already on Robben Island for a previous conviction when the raid happened, but many still say today that his gun was buried on the farm and lies somewhere hidden in the earth.
Howick If you are driving down to Durban from Johannesburg, you might want to make a short visit to the site at Howick where Nelson Mandela was arrested. Set in the beautiful Natal Midlands, the spot is only a few minutes off the main highway, the N3.
Though there's not a great deal to see, a sculpture recently has been erected to mark the spot. An ongoing mystery is tied to the place, though, as some activists have said the CIA tipped off the South African security forces, pinpointing Mandela at this spot. No one has proved the claim, and it remains uncertain.
Qunu, on the Eastern Cape, is Nelson Mandela's hometown. His house -- which you cannot visit -- is right on the N2 between Durban and East London. If you're on the highway, the small museum at Qunu is certainly worth a stop.
If you find the right people at the museum, they will grab a small piece of plastic chair and you can slide down the vast curved rock that Nelson Mandela slid down when he was a young boy playing hooky from his duties as a cattle herder.
If you're lucky and have the time, you may be able to sit with a group of elders and sip the local sorghum beer known as Umqombothi. There is a tiny, reasonably priced bed and breakfast called Lili's where you can sleep in a typical Xhosa hut and try real Xhosa food. The surrounding area is extremely poor but there are intriguing things to see and do.
Nelson Mandela's life and legacy are layered into the life and landscape of South Africa, and as the years go by, his stature grows.