Cape Town – There’s no doubt that South Africa has an intricate and complex past. To this day, you can still find traces of this history around every other corner, if you know where to look. From sweeping architecture, to old prisons, to a small town where gold was first discovered, each place holds a story of its own and a puzzle piece to this country’s past.
Here are 10 iconic historical places you need to visit in South Africa:
1. Cradle of Humankind
This World Heritage Site is the world’s richest hominin site, home to about 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils and a large diversity of endangered animals, plants and birds. It’s also where the 2.3-million-year-old fossil nicknamed ‘Mrs Ples’ was discovered in 1947 in the Sterkfontein Caves.
Location: About 50km northwest of Johannesburg.
Cost: R160 - R215
2. District 6 Museum
It was established in 1994 as a memorial to the forced removals of more than 60 000 people (mainly Coloureds and Blacks) around the country during apartheid. The museum has an array of old photographs, artefacts, artwork and remains of everyday objects donated by former residents.
Location: 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town city centre.
Cost: R30 - 45 per adult, R5 - R15 per scholar.
3. Union Buildings
Lush gardens and expansive architecture at the highest point of Pretoria forms the centre of political life in South Africa. The buildings have become synonymous for the country’s government, housing The Presidency and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Built and designed in the early 1900s, it took about 1 265 artisans, labourers and workmen almost three years to construct.
Location: Government Avenue, Pretoria.
4. Mandela's Capture Site
A quiet road nestled away in KwaZulu-Natal was where Nelson Mandela, pretending to be a chauffeur, was flagged down and captured by police in 1962, after evading capture for 17 months. A sculpture with steel columns was constructed to create Mandela’s portrait at the site, which visitors can see as they approach along a path representing “the long walk to freedom”.
Location: About 5km northwest of Howick on the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg, take Tweedie turnoff to Lions River, turn right onto the R103. The site is a 5min drive from the highway.
5. Soweto’s Vilakazi Street
Visit the only road in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Wander Vilakazi Street to Mandela House, where Mandela lived with his family, and Tutu’s House situated a short distance away.
Location: Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto.
Cost: R40 - R60 per adult, R20 per student.
6. Robben Island
The island is possibly most famous for housing one of the world’s most well-known prisoners, Nelson Mandela and several other inmates that have come to the forefront of South African politics including Walter Sisula, Tokyo Sexwale, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma. Take a ferry on a guided tour to the island where you can visit the maximum security prison and Mandela’s former cell.
Location: Robben Island, Cape Town.
Cost: R300 per adult, R160 per child.
7. Pilgrim’s Rest
This little town in Mpumalanga was one of the first areas where the gold rush boomed in the late 1800s and is now a provincial heritage site. Take a walk through the village’s quaint streets and retrace the footsteps of the pioneers, robbers’ paths and local shebeens.
Location: Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga.
Cost: Activities vary. R12 per adult and R6 per kid for a gold panning experience.
8. Kimberley’s Big Hole and the Old Town
The massive crater in the Northern Cape, surrounded by original buildings, is what’s left of the thriving mining days back in the late 1800s. Stroll through preserved buildings in the Old Town, where people flocked to seek their fortunes.
Location: Kimberly, Northern Cape.
Cost: R90 per adult, R50 - R80 per child/student.
9. Voortrekker Monument to Freedom Park walkway
The Voortrekker Monument pays tribute to the Afrikaner pioneer history of South Africa. A short car ride away is the Freedom Park, which contains multiple memorial sites and commemorates those who made sacrifices for the liberation of South Africa. In 2011, the road was officially opened to link the Voortrekker Monument and the Freedom Park, representative of a move towards post-apartheid reconciliation.
Location: Eeufees Road, Pretoria and Koch Street, Pretoria.
Cost: R15 - R300
10. Parliament Buildings and City Hall in Cape Town
Take a guided tour through the lawns and corridors and explore the history of the Parliament Buildings which are well known for their political significance in South Africa. Head down a few streets to Cape Town City Hall where you can see the balcony from which Nelson Mandela made his first public speech, just hours after his release from prison on February 11 1990.
Location: Parliament Street, Cape Town and Darling Street, Cape Town.