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Mandela's Cape Town Memories
"The mainland to which we knew we would one day return" – Nelson Mandela
Last updated 18 July, 2019
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his prison sentence in Cape Town, and it is here where he was first seen by the world on his release. Cape Town is a politically significant site for the struggle for freedom with many landmarks.
During Nelson Mandela's many years on Robben Island he developed a friendship with prison guard Christo Brand, a lifelong relationship of mutual respect. "Robben Island had an open yard at the top of the prison where there was a vegetable patch," says Christo. "Mandela loved gardening and was proud of his garden. He grew brinjals, tomatoes, onions and spinach, which, every Friday, the wardens would combine with meat to make a stew. Mandela always shared his stew with the wardens."
It serves as a backdrop for many Cape Town landmarks, including Robben Island. Nelson Mandela recalls fond memories of the view from the island: "During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Mountain at its magnificent silhouette. To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return."
Desmond Tutu's official residence
Nelson Mandela and his then-wife, Winnie, visited Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s official residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, on the day after his release from prison. Members of the Mandela family and struggle icons including Walter and Albertina Sisulu were present. On the 20th anniversary of Mandela's release, Tutu commented: "The day Nelson Mandela walked free from Victor Verster Prison, our collective spirit soared. It was a day that promised the beginning of the end of indignity."
The Grand Parade and City Hall
It was from the City Hall's balcony overlooking Cape Town's main public square that Nelson Mandela first addressed South Africans on the day of his release from prison, in 1990. On 9 May 1994, he once again delivered a rousing speech from the same venue after his election as president of South Africa.
Did you know that there is a Nelson Mandela bronze statue in the City Hall balcony, where Mandela stood when he gave his first address as a free man on 11 February 1990? Watch the moment the statue was unveiled.
Nelson Mandela's role in the 1995 Rugby World Cup not only inspired the Springboks to victory, but also motivated a nation to unite. Author of Playing the Enemy John Carlin wrote: "Former Springbok captain Morné du Plessis arranged for the players to learn the song of black resistance, now the new national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. At a choir session in Cape Town, the Springbok players belted out the song with feeling, the vast second-row Kobus Wiese leading the choral charge."
Victor Verster (Drakenstein Correctional Centre)
Victor Verster Prison, now named Drakenstein Correctional Centre, is located between Paarl and Franschhoek. During the apartheid era, it served as a low-security prison acting as a stepping stone for the release of lower-risk political prisoners. It was here where Nelson Mandela spent the last three years of imprisonment in a warden house with a pool.
What are you doing for Mandela Day this year? We've got a list of great causes for you to get behind. For more articles about Nelson Mandela check out Madiba's Greatest Film Moments or Touring Nelson Mandela's landmarks in Cape Town.
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