Cecil and I were engrossed in discussions of sabotage plans as we passed through Howick, twenty miles northwest of Pietermaritzburg. At Cedara, a small town just past Howick, I noticed a Ford V-8 filled with white men shoot past us on the right. I instinctively turned round to look behind and I saw two more cars filled with white men. Suddenly, in front of us, the Ford was signaling us to stop. I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my seventeen months of “freedom” were about to end.
As Cecil slowed down he turned to me and said, “Who are these men?” I did not answer because we both knew full well who they were. They had chosen their hiding spot well; to the left of us was a steep wooded bank they could have forced us into had we tried to elude them. I was in the left-hand passenger seat, and for a moment I thought about jumping out and making an escape into the woods, but I would have been shot in a matter of seconds.
*from Long Walk to Freedom -The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
The above is Nelson Mandela’s own account of his arrest on August 5, 1962, before being sentenced to 5 years in prison for inciting a worker’s strike and later, life in prison for sabotage.
I had the opportunity to visit the very site where he was arrested, now referred to as the Nelson Mandela Capture Site.
I came to know of this location and the monument that now stands there, via a random Instagram scroll. One day I was blindly scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, looking for nothing in particular, and then something caught my eye. I was staring at an amazing picture of lush greenery surrounding a sculpture of Nelson Mandela’s face. I didn’t know where that sculpture was or what it was called. The caption informed me that the picture was taken somewhere in South Africa and I tucked that little piece of information in my brain. When I finally started planning my own trip to South Africa, I knew I’d have to find this piece of art and see it with my own eyes. I conducted a frantic Google search of “sculpture of Mandela’s face” or some combination of those words, and found it! Right outside Howick which is not too far from Durban. Perfect! I was planning to go to Durban so that would get me close…and then I’d just have to figure out how to go the rest of the way.
I happened upon a tour that would take me along the Sani Pass to Lesotho (that was an amazing experience on its own…blog post coming soon!). I’m not usually a fan of organized group tours, but my ambitious plans to rent a car and drive around the region were squashed by my hesitation to drive on the opposite side of the road! As it turned out, I was the only person who’d chosen to take the tour on that day. Knowing that Howick was kind of out of the way, I asked my driver/tour guide if he wouldn’t mind taking the detour to see the Mandela Site. He agreed, since we were one-on-one, and I was overjoyed!
The drive was simply gorgeous. Durban is quite a bustling city, so it was lovely to take a drive into the beauty of the Midlands. Since my trip up to that point had taken me to two coastal cities, Cape Town and Durban, it was nice to feel the damp, humid air on my skin, smell the fragrance of earth and vegetation, and be surrounded by lush thickets and rolling green hills.
We made a quick stop in Pietermaritzburg, a charming town full of Victorian-style buildings, evidence of British occupation. My driver knew the history of that place quite well, which was rather impressive since he’s not a native South African. But the location and history lesson that I was most concerned with was the one I already knew; the location and story of Nelson Mandela’s capture.
After driving for a little over an hour, enjoying the lush, green countryside, I could finally see the sign from the road and the pieces of the monument.
It’s quite an interesting piece of art. It’s comprised of 50 steel columns – each between 6.5 and 9.5 meters tall. The columns are shaped and spaced in such a way that, when in the correct position, the viewer can see the profile of Mandela’s face perfectly. There is a long, brick path that cuts through the grassy knoll and opens up right in front of the sculpture. On these same grounds sit a small cafe and museum which were both closed during my visit. But since my goal was just to experience the sculpture, that was not a problem for me.
The weight of this monument is not lost on me. It was erected in 2012, 50 years after Mandela’s capture in 1962. The 50 columns represent the years that have passed since that moment.
The day of my visit was sunny, breezy, and peaceful. Thankfully, we arrived early in the day before the droves of tourists that were sure to come. I recall making my way from the gravel parking lot to the lush grass, stepping on the red, stone path, and taking the walk that led to the monument. All around me was gentle breeze and the distant sound of intermittent traffic on the not too distant road. The buzz of bees and other insects greeted me and punctuated the peace that I felt along the path. The fragrance was pure, green, and clean.
The scenery that surrounded me on all sides made me wonder what Mandela was feeling on that day. Was he was able to enjoy the beauty surrounding him? Did he notice the peace of the place that would one day cradle a monument in his honor? Or was his mind so overwhelmed with plans of how to defeat an unjust system and bring true freedom to his people in their own homeland, that this peace and beauty eluded him before his physical freedom was taken from him?
One thing is certain, he gave his life for the struggle and the freedom of his country. The fact that he is so widely honored and revered for his sacrifice is refreshing. His legacy will never be erased or forgotten.
For more info: The Capture Site.
The company I used for my trip to the Mandela Site and Lesotho is 1st Zulu Safaris. I highly recommend them if you’re in the are and looking to book an excursion of any type!