Beyond Madiba: Celebrating the sons and daughters of SA’s Heritage


The Eastern Cape is rich in cultural and historic heritage, with the rich soils and tumbling hills of the province having produced many of South Africa’s most revered and influential sons and daughters.

While former president Nelson Mandela most certainly is at the forefront of the consciousness of people across the world when referring to the Eastern Cape, there are many other men and women who have contributed immensely to the realisation of the constitutional democracy we enjoy today.

SEE: #TourismMonth2018: 7 Eastern Cape spots not to miss as Travel Week set to make exploring SA more affordable

So take some time out, check out these towns, villages and cities that are the home of these South African legends.  

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe - Graaff Reinet

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was born on 5 December 1924 in Graaff Reinet. The tall, eloquent and immensely intelligent fellow would go on to become one of the most influential figures in African politics and the struggle against apartheid throughout the course of his life.

“We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind…there is only one race, the human race. Multiracialism is racism multiplied” Sobukwe once remarked. Sobukwe came to be known to his supporters as “Prof” because of his educational achievements following his studies at Fort Hare University and lecturing African Studies at Wits.

Once he had fully committed himself to politics and organised resistance to the apartheid regime, he set himself apart from the African National Congress (ANC) with his Africanist ideology. He went on to found the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) 

An interesting fact about Sobukwe's life is that his influence and intellect was so feared by the apartheid regime that they perverted the legal system to specifically keep him detained not for what he had done but because of what he might do upon his release from prison. This came to be known as the Sobukwe Clause

Take some time out to check out the place of his birth, Graaff Reinet. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

The Camdeboo National Park

 (Photo: iStock)

Having been formed over hundreds of millions of years ago, the Karoo is certainly one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, let alone, South Africa. There is almost no place better near Graaff Reinet for travellers to see this wonder for themselves than at the Camdeboo National Park. Offering visitors a glimpse of the unique landscape and ecosystem of the area, visitors to Graaf Reinet should not miss out.

Beyond offering breathtaking scenic spaces and unspoiled stargazing, Camdeboo National Park is home to six animal species that can’t be found in the legendary Kruger National Park. They include black wildebeest, berg kwagga, blesbuck, gemsbok and springbok.

For more information, follow this link

The Valley of Desolation

 (Photo: iStock)

Also known as the Cathedral of the Mountains, this certainly must be evidence of nature just showing off what with its rugged, sheer cliff face and precariously balanced columns of Dolerite that rise 120 metres from the valley floor, against the backdrop of the vast Great Karoo plains. 

This is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the area with over 100 000 people visiting the area every year. Offering amazing views and scenic vistas of the surrounding landscape this is a location well-worth visiting for anyone in the vicinity of Graaff Reinet.

Nature and outdoor enthusiasts will love the space as it is endowed with an impressive amount of flora and fauna to be marvelled at. Make sure to get the most of the Valley of Desolation by taking a leisurely hike to the top to enjoy unrivalled panoramic views. 

For more information, follow this link.    

Township Tours

 (Photo: iStock)

A reality of Graaff Reinet, like with much of South Africa's smaller towns, is that of the stark difference in material conditions and lived experiences of people of colour in township locations. One way to experience this reality holistically, in a way that acknowledges the issues but also celebrates aspects of the culture that emanates from these living spaces is to take a township tour. 

Kroonvale and Umasizakhe are two of Graaff Reinet's townships and can be explored with a guide. Check out the house where Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe grew up. Visit and speak with locals as they extend to you the offer to buy their handmade goods and experience Xhosa culture.

For more information, follow this link.

The Dutch Reformed Church (Groot Kerk) and the town centre

 (Photo: iStock)

Found in the town's main square of the town, the Dutch Reformed Church is a replica of Salisbury Cathedral in England. This landmark 19th-century church, one of South Africa’s finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture, was built using local sandstone and has beautiful stained-glass windows.

Interestingly, it was the fourth church to be erected on the same spot. The Dutch Reformed Church that today stands in the space was opened in 1887. The church maintains an active congregation and is also one of the many heritage sites in a town filled with them. The church also makes the perfect place to start off exploring the town centre.

With over 220 heritage sites and national monuments, there is plenty for visitors to see. From the history of the Anglo-Boer War to the fossils that have been found in the area - there is something for every kind of traveller to enjoy. Whether it's a trip into the recent or ancient past at Reinet House, the Military Museum, the Rock Art exhibition and Stone Age Collection, Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe Exhibition or even just the Drostdy Hotel - get out and get exploring.

For more information, follow this link.

Obesa Cacti Nursery

For something especially unique, check out the cacti labyrinth at Obesa Nursery. Founded in 1970, the nursery stocks over 7000 different species of plants and stocks well over 2 million individual plants. 

An absolute treat that must be explored and enjoyed is the labyrinth at the heart of the nursery. Walk among the succulents that can, and do, reach up to 10 metres tall. Only a short distance from the town proper, this is a must-see for plant-lovers and those interested in the novel. Find Obesa at 49 Murray Street. 

For more information, follow this link.

SEE: Wind your way through these Dorpies of the Eastern Cape: Graaff Reinet

Govan Mbeki and family - Mount Fletcher

The Eastern Cape and the Mbeki family are inextricably linked together with the family's history being intricately related to the development and history of the province. The small village of Mount Fletcher is the perfect place to see part of this history. 

Many South Africans know much of the story of former president Thabo Mbeki but less are as informed about his late father, Govan Mbeki. Born on 9 July 1910, Govan studied at Fort Hare University, where he met others who would go on to play pivotal roles in the organised resistance to the apartheid regime. 

Govan Mbeki played a central role in disseminating the New Age newspaper (not the Gupta one), which, at the time, was one of the only publications that provided information about the conditions, realities and aspirations of the oppressed majority under the apartheid government before it was banned in 1962.

Mbeki was one of the most prominent leaders in the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) and served 24 years on Robben Island with his fellow Rivonia trialists including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.

Take some time out to check out his one-time home, Mount Fletcher. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

Tsikeletsi Waterfall

Long used by traditional healers in the area for its perceived powers for healing, this is a must-see destination for visitors headed to Mount Fletcher. It is located on a point along the Togwana River and the waterfall is especially magnificent when the river is running at full force.

For more information, follow this link.

Cultural Dancing and Cuisine 

Mount Fletcher offers visitors some of the most authentic heritage and cultural experiences in the country with people as of yet unsullied or tainted by the trappings of urban modernity. Enjoy these experiences which are expressed through traditional dance, craftwork and food and drink production including the making of local, indigenous beers made traditionally. 

Since there is largely no formal, organised tourism in the area, these experiences are to be enjoyed at the behest of locals who you will likely have to engage with. It's all part of this authentic experience.

For more information, follow this link.  

Zibi Meyer Cave

This cave, named for Chief Zibi and the German priest Reverend Meyer is one of the interesting sights in the area surrounding Mount Fletcher.

Make sure to stop by one of the other major traditionally important spaces in the area. The forebears of the Amahlubi peoples would gather in this cave to pray to their ancestors, pray for rain, good harvests and the blessings of the higher power.

For more information, follow this link.

Kwa Bhaliwe Rock Art - Upper Tsitsana 

What was once an ancient sacrificial site is one of the more organised tourist offerings to visitors to this part of the Eastern Cape. It is also the biggest site of rock art in South Africa at more than 100 metres. This is certainly one of the best places to explore the deep and rich heritage of South Africa in one of the most pristine locations in the country. 

For more information, follow this link.

SEE: #EcoTravels: A nature lover's guide to Eastern Cape

Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela -  Mbongweni, Bizana

The 'Mother of the Nation', as she was respectfully and affectionately known is another legendary icon born of the Eastern Cape soil.

Born in the village of Mbongweni in Bizana, she is likely one of the most well-known and controversial women activists in the country. Sadly, her contribution to the liberation of the country from the oppressive apartheid regime is often overshadowed by the legacy of her former husband Nelson Mandela. 

Only three years into their marriage, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of treason leaving Winnie on the outside to raise their children and continue the fight against apartheid. During this period, she was victimised and suffered at the hands of the state when she was banned, isolated and even tortured. Despite this, the mother of the nation remained unshaken and steadfast in her belief and commitment to the liberation of the peoples of South Africa.

The place of her origin, Bizana is a small but beautiful part of the Eastern Cape with beautiful landscapes, modern tourist attractions and peaceful beaches.

Take some time out to check out the place of her birth. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

Umtamvuna Nature Reserve 

Straddling KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, the Umtamvuna Nature Reserve is the perfect spot to enjoy some of the best outdoor experiences that South Africa has to offer. With breathtaking views of the Umtamvuna River Gorge, a host of rare and endemic flora in varied habitats - there is much to see in this beautiful location.

Make sure to pack a good lunch as there is a small picnic site not too far from the reserve's office. If you're looking to do some exploring, there are a number of trails available for the intrepid explorer to tackle.

For more information, follow this link.

Mkambati Nature Reserve

Another great outdoor experience to be had is at the Mkambati Nature Reserve. This coastal reserve is blessed with an abundance of varied habitats from grasslands to swamp forests to ravines and beautiful rivers. Wildlife roams the areas grazing on the grasslands offering visitors the chance to see majestic herbivores meandering about with little human interference. 

Situated as close to the coastline as it is, the reserve offers 10 kilometres of rugged, rocky beaches, crystal clear rock pools and one of the only waterfalls in the world that falls straight into the sea.

For more information, follow this link.

Wild Coast Sun Casino

What is there to say about the Wild Coast Sun? It's a casino and entertainment haven in a beautiful location. This is the ideal location for those who want the luxury and comfort.

Have a splash at the water park or hit the links at the wild coast golf course or just do some shopping - there are more than enough activities and experiences to keep visitors of all ages entertained.   

For more information, follow this link.

Silver Beach

This is the perfect spot to find your chill. Soft sands, inviting waters and a calm, family-friendly vibe make this a must-see spot. Feel free to swim in the waters or try your hand at some fishing as the angling is good here even from the shore. There are a few cafes and restaurants in the vicinity should you work up an appetite so enjoy.

Bantu Steve Biko - King William's Town

It is hard to understate the role that Steve Biko played in the dismantling of the mental states imposed on the majority of South Africans by the apartheid regime. An active student politician and leader, he has come to be seen as the central figure in the rise of black consciousness in South Africa. “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” is one of the most iconic quotes attributed to Biko.

Born on 18 December 1946, the young leader went on, while studying medicine at the University of Natal Medical School, to be instrumental in founding the South African Students' Organisation (SASO) and the promulgation of the slogan "black is beautiful". This move into politics saw his eventual banishment by the apartheid regime in 1973 and arrest three years later.

He died in a Pretoria, igniting furore and anger from abroad and domestically about the brutality of the apartheid regime. though he met his end in a very brutal way, the heritage and legacy that he leaves is one of a rejection of inferiority and recognition of basic humanity. Go explore this and more in his hometown of King William's Town.

Take some time out to check out his hometown, King William's Town. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

Amathole Museum

Established in 1884, the Amathole Museum is one of the oldest in South Africa. This is an excellent spot to hit up if you're looking to see the variety of South Africa's wildlife in their corresponding (simulated) natural environment. Real, stuffed animals make this the perfect place to get a close look at the scale and detail of many of the country's, and continent's, various animal species.

This museum of natural history also includes scientific, anthropological, historical exhibits that will keep visitors in awe for hours. The cultural section of the museum takes visitors through the colonial history of the Eastern Cape including the arrival of European settlers and the subsequent changes that they enacted on the province and country. 

It would not be a complete cultural section if it did not adequately cover Xhosa culture, history, rituals and customs. Take some time out and get exploring.

For more information, follow this link.

Fort Murray

Check out this piece of history situated right on the Buffalo River. Fort Murray is a structure that dates back to the mid-19th-century that served as a military structure at that time in history fending off attack. In 1846, the Seventh Frontier War, also referred to as the Seventh Xhosa War or War of the Axe, erupted near the Amathole Mountains and the fort is one of the last remaining structures that tell the story of that time.

Make sure to check out this heritage site when you're in King William's Town. 

For more information, follow this link.

Botanical Gardens

For a more leisurely experience, head on over to the Botanical Gardens. These fragrant, fresh gardens offer a variety of flora to be enjoyed in this scenic retreat. With indigenous plants and others from further afield, you may end up learning a few things. 

For more information, follow this link.

Garden of Remembrance

You cannot go into the hometown of Steve Biko during heritage month without a visit to this monument to one of the greatest martyrs of the anti-apartheid struggle.

In 1997, the family of Biko, opposed to the idea of a new tombstone being erected at Steve's grave, proposed that the entire graveyard undergo an upgrade (with accompanying regular maintenance) and that the site be dedicated to recognising the contribution of other members of the community in their fight against oppression.

The space has, since then, come to be known as the Steve Biko Garden of Remembrance and includes the grave sights of struggle legends like Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge as well as Bisho Massacre victims amongst others.

To learn more about Steve Biko, visit the Foundation website at: Steve Biko Foundation.

 SEE: #LoveSA: Get fishy around Eastern Cape's waters

Walter Sisulu - Engcobo (Ngcobo)

Another revered son of the Eastern Cape is struggle icon Walter Sisulu. Born in what was then Engcobo (Ngcobo today) in 1912, Walter came from a mixed background having been born to a Xhosa mother and a white father. he joined the struggle against apartheid in 1940 officially when he joined the ANC in 1940 and went on to co-found the Youth League with other giants Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. 

He was arrested in 1952 for being part of the planning of the Defiance Campaign. He received a suspended sentence and went abroad seeking to garner support for the anti-apartheid movement internationally. Upon his return to South Africa, he was apprehended and was sentenced to life imprisonment along with his fellow Rivonia trialists in 1964. 

He then spent 25 years behind bars, the majority of that being on Robben Island, before being released in 1989. He went on to become the deputy president of the ANC after the congress's unbanning in 1988.   

Take some time out to check out his home, Ngcobo. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

Heroes Park

Its all in the name with this one. Make sure you take the time to stroll through this space with its monuments built in honour of icons of the united liberation movement of South Africa and icons such as Walter Sisulu and Dr AB Xuma. Relax and spend some time here familiarising yourself with the biographies of these local legends and children of the Eastern Cape.

For more information, follow this link.

heroes park

Heroes Park (Photo:


King Ngubengcuka's Grave

This is another location that speaks to the rich history and heritage found in the Eastern Cape. King Ngubengcuka was a great AbaThembu king and this monument that honours him was built in 1830. The location of the monument itself is quite fascinating as it atop a hill that overlooks a river where traditional rituals are performed.

For more information, follow this link.

AmaXhosa King Rharhabe and AmaBhaca King Madzikane cultural sites

Much like the above site, there are many locations that have significant cultural value and deep histories. Visit the sites of battle and where the AmaXhosa and AmaBhaca kings Rharhabe and Madzikane died in battle. 

Satan’s Nek

The Engcobo hills offer intrepid explorers and visitors alike breathtaking views of the expanse and the mountainside. This eerily named location is a 16.8-kilometre pass that disappears into the side of the mountain. 

Make sure to check out this unique location with its orchids, views of farms and impressive views of the Xuka River Canyon. 

For more information, follow this link.

satans nek

Heroes Park (Photo:

SEE: #LoveSA: Plan your next weekend coastal escape at these Eastern Cape port towns

Sophia Williams-de Bruyn - Port Elizabeth

Another struggle icon who does not receive nearly enough of the credit and respect that she deserves to be accorded is Sophia Williams-de Bruyn. 

Born in Port Elizabeth in 1938, her leadership activities started at a young age when whilst at high school and working in factories during school breaks, she assisted fellow factory workers to assist them with their disputes due to her being educated. 

This was to set off a history of union activity that saw her working alongside prominent unionists and activists including Govan Mbeki. When she was only 18 years old, she marched with Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and thousands of other women from across the country in the anti-pass demonstrations and march to the Union Buildings in 1956. She went on to contribute to the liberation of the oppressed peoples of South Africa in numerous other ways. 

Take some time out to check out the place of her birth. Here are some of the best things to enjoy in the area:

Donkin Heritage Trail and Route 67

Situated in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan, mainly around the city centre, this trail links 51 historical places which can be explored on a self-guided walking tour. Click here to download a map of the Trail.

Along the Donkin Heritage Trail, you will see a collection of Victorian buildings and monuments that serve as historic reminders of the first British settlers who arrived in Algoa Bay, as well as a statue of Madiba which is part of the Voting Line Sculpture.

For more information, follow this link.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum

Delve into South African art and culture at this museum just a few minutes away from the Voting Line Sculpture and Route 67.

This art museum houses a collection of South African art and craft - specialising in the art of the Eastern Cape, as well as British and Oriental art and international printmaking. SAT says that even the entrance to the museum at St George’s Park “is a piece of art” created by Mother Nature.

For more information, follow this link.

Hike the Island Nature Reserve

Get outdoors and get hiking! Port Elizabeth has some of the best hiking trails to explore with beautiful sights to see as you go along the various route. With a network of hiking trails, expect beautiful scenery and a great outdoor adventure for the whole family to enjoy. Bring along some food as there is a great place to braai or set up a picnic.  

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