Blood, guts, shame and glory - Taking a Cultural Road Trip through SA

2015-12-15 18:22 - Louzel Lombard
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Cape Town – South Africa is an interesting place full of interesting people – diverse people with different backgrounds, points of reference and cultural history.

This diversity is the essence of South Africa. And when we respect, understand and accept different peoples’ culture, beliefs and backgrounds, we embody the true meaning of ‘Proudly South African’.

To understand the various cultures and backgrounds, we must make an effort. And what better way to get to know more about South Africa and her people than on a road trip?

We’ve put together the ultimate cultural road trip experience for travellers who want to get to know SA in all her diversity.

So, stock up on the biltong and Cabana and take a trip through SA’s history.



Union Buildings 

What: The Union Buildings form the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the president of South Africa. On 10 May 1994 the inauguration of former president Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, and his vice-presidents, after the country's first free elections, heralded the beginning of a new era in South Africa's history at the Union Buildings. Through the political eras of SA, it has become an iconic landmark of Pretoria and South Africa in general, and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and an emblem of democracy. Regardless of it being a place of political importance, it is also a hotspot for social events like concerts and picnics, held on the lawns in front of the buildings.

Where: Government Avenue, Pretoria

Voortrekker Monument

What: This monument commemorates the history of the Afrikaner volk, who ventured into unknown territory from the Cape all the way to Gauteng, fleeing the rule of the English. The early Afrikaners travelled for years with all their belongings, livestock and families using only oxen and ox wagons, over the unforgiving South African terrain. It is the most visited heritage site of its kind in Gauteng and one of the top ten cultural historical visitor attractions in the country.

Where: Eeufees Road, Pretoria


Freedom Park

What: Freedom Park is situated on Salvokop in Pretoria. It includes a memorial with a list of the names of those killed in the South African Wars, World War I, World War II as well as during the apartheid era. In March 2009, twenty-four deceased "liberation struggle heroes" were proposed for inclusion to the memorial. Some of the "national leaders" chosen included Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, Helen Joseph, Albert Lutuli, and Bram Fischer. International and continental leaders were also among those considered for their contribution to the liberation of South Africa or the repressed in general. The continental leaders included Mozambican President Samora Machel and Amílcar Cabral. Amongst the international list was Che Guevara, a revolutionary who fought alongside former Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Toussaint Louverture, who fought during Haiti's war for independence.

Where: Koch Street, Pretoria


Vilakazi Street

What: Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where once two Nobel Peace Prize laureates lived. Today, Nelson Mandela’s house is a museum, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu still maintains his residence. In the past, the street’s stories were narrated by tour guides and historians; but now, its history is written all over the street for anybody who is interested. The records are in various art forms, including a sign language sculpture that greets visitors at the entrance of the street, and a photograph and video exhibition at Uncle Tom’s Hall. Not only do the different media tell the stories of famous struggle heroes, but they also tell of the experiences of ordinary residents.

Where: Soweto, Gauteng

Apartheid Museum

What: The Apartheid Museum, the first of its kind, illustrates the rise and fall of apartheid. The exhibits have been assembled and organised by a multi-disciplinary team of curators, film-makers, historians and designers. They include provocative film footage, photographs, text panels and artefacts illustrating the events and human stories that are part of the epic saga, known as apartheid. A series of 22 individual exhibition areas takes the visitor through a dramatic emotional journey that tells a story of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this tyranny.

Where: Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Road, Johannesburg
Also see: South Africa's Top 10 museums - as voted by visitors

Newtown Cultural Precinct

What: The Newtown Cultural Precinct is an entire precinct dedicated to cultural activities and the arts. It is situated in downtown Johannesburg, and has a distinctly cosmopolitan vibe. There are numerous bars, restaurants, art galleries and clubs with the same hip attitude that made it a hot-bed of protest theatre, music and poetry during the apartheid-era. This is a place where the South African culture is truly celebrated and lived.

Where: Scibono Discovery Centre, Miriam Makeba Street, corner of President Street, Johannesburg

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Satyagraha House

What: Satyagraha House is a museum and guest house located in Johannesburg in the same house in which Mahatma Gandhi lived and worked between 1908 and 1909. The Satyagraha House is a place that left its imprint on the life of the Mahatma, and still hosts the ideal he stood for – Peace and passive resistance.

Where: 15 Pine Road, Johannesburg


What: You can go on a cultural heritage tour and not go to the Sterkfontein Caves – the place where it all started for the human species. In September this year, a monumental breakthrough in science was achieved when the University of Witswatersrand unveiled of the largest assemblage of hominin fossils on the African continent. Scientists said this discovery is going to force the world to re-think what it means to be human.

Where: R400, West Rand, Gauteng

Also see: Maropeng Visitors guide: 6 Ideas to make the most of the Cradle of Humankind


Nelson Mandela Museum

What: Nothing distinguishes the village of Qunu from any other in the Butterworth surroundings.
Life in Qunu is quiet and peaceful. Goats frequent the streets of the village hub, where a single fuel station and one or two supply stores can be found. But people don’t come to Qunu for supplies. They come to remember and see what it was that made a ‘Father of a Nation’. The Nelson Mandela Museum is the first stop to getting some insight into this quest.

Where: Qunu, Eastern Cape

Read: 4 Reasons to visit Nelson Mandela’s hometown, Qunu

Steve Biko Centre

What: Some people argue that Biko would have been a leader as great as – if not even greater than – Nelson Mandela had he not been murdered by the small, fearful minority who ruled during Apartheid. His life and death is narrated and celebrated in this modern, open and interactive space, making it fun to go there. Modern media used by the museum enhance story-telling – story-telling that’s done by individuals who are not only expert at their job, but also have personal relevance to their position in the museum.

Where: Ginsberg Township, King William’s Town, Eastern Cape

Also read:  Why all South Africans should visit the Steve Biko Centre in King William’s Town

Nelson Mandela Capture Site
What: The genesis of the project at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and the installation of an internationally recognizable sculpture in the Natal Midlands landscape is a response to the modest original monument on the site consisting of a plaque set into a wall on the side of the road. Today, a massive sculpture, a collaboration between artists Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose, significantly acknowledges this monumental moment in SA history. The artwork consists of 50 steel columns between 6 and 9.5 meters high along a thirty-meter length, which can be seen, from the road looking like a forest of steel poles. To see the Mandela image the visitor must first walk along a path representing “the long walk to freedom”. At a point along the path, the 50 linear vertical steel columns line up, creating the illusion of a flat two-dimensional image showing Madiba’s portrait, metaphorically announcing his return to the site of his disappearance from world view.
Where: On the R103, outside Howick, KwaZulu-Natal

Battlefields route of KZN
What: With 82 battlefields, museums, old fortifications and places of remembrance the Route boasts the largest concentration of significant Battles and war related sites than anywhere in South Africa. When visiting the battlefields, it is advised you choose an era, war or campaign and then select the sites you want to visit. The route is divided into the various eras and wars and listed the sites accordingly.
Where: Across the central and north east of KwaZulu-Natal

Spirit of the Emakhosini
What: The Emakhosini memorial stands on a lookout hill, Khumba, and has a huge, bronze beer pot as the centre piece. Scenes depicting everyday Zulu life surround the pot. On the outer edge of the memorial are seven large animal horns, symbolising the seven kings who lie buried in the valley. The memorial and the park that surrounds it are symbolic of the proud, living heritage of the Zulu people.
Where: eMakhosini Opathe Heritage Park, Ulundi, KwaZulu Natal

ALSO READ: A flame-grilled road trip through the Eastern Cape


District Six Museum
What: District Six Museum came about in SA’s year of Democracy, 1994, as a memorial to the forced movement of 60 000 inhabitants of various races from District Six in the seventies during Apartheid. The floor of the museum is covered with a big map of the district with hand written notes of former inhabitants, which indicate where their houses were located then. The museum is a moving tribute to the displaced people and the lives they were forced to leave behind when they were removed from the area.
Where: 25A Albertus Street and Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, Western Cape

Robben Island
What: “A symbol of the Triumph of the Human Spirit over adversity.” That’s how the Robben Island Museum is trademarked, acknowledging the hardship and injustice the island represented in the past. Regardless of the hardship, the island also delivered some of South Africa’s most famed leaders, including Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Apart from Madiba, Kgalema Motlanthe, and current President Jacob Zuma were also prisoners on Robben Island.
Where: 6.9km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, Western Cape (Only assessable via ferry.)

Also see: Robben Island soon to offer overnight stays

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