In celebration of South Africa’s 20 years of Democracy, SAHRA used Heritage Month to look back at 20 sites that have been declared National Heritage Sites under the National Heritage Resources Act. These sites have been selected to tell the South African story of a multi-racial rainbow nation that overcame oppression, discrimination, and often brutal atrocities, and of the emergence of humanity and large powerful kingdoms and citadels controlling extensive international trade.

National Heritage Sites helps us to tell South African stories and preserve their legacies for future generations. Just like there are many stories to tell of our rich heritage, there are many more sits that will be added to ever growing list of declared sites.

What does declaration as a National Heritage Site mean?

SAHRA’s mandate is to identify places and objects that have qualities, through their association to historical events, persons, organisations or scientific or social value so exceptional that their influence if felt across the country and deserve national acknowledgement. Declaration as a National Heritage Site is an acknowledgement of these national, and often universal, values and aims to protect the authenticity and integrity of these resources.


1) Taung Fossil Site

National Heritage Site declaration: 10 November 2006;

Inscription as a World Heritage Site: 2005

The discovery of a small skull what was to become known as the Taung Child by Dr Raymond Dart was at the time a most significant and controversial find. The discovery upset orthodox scientific thinking about human origins and advanced the case for the presence of human ancestors in Africa by almost a million years. This created a large amount of discussion and debate but Dart was later vindicated in his findings by further discoveries of Australopithecines fossils at Makapan and Sterkfontein in South Africa and at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. This internationally important paleontological site is also part of the World Heritage listing of Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, known as the Cradle of Humankind. Located in the North West Province, the site is highly significant in that it is where the first remains of Australopithecus africanus, an early hominin species that lived 2 – 3 million years ago, was discovered in 1924.

The site has other important features such as Stone Age archaeological remains, historical sites and traditional links.

2) Fossil Sites of South Africa

National Heritage Site declaration: 5 November 2004

Inscription as a World Heritage Site: 1999

Known as The Cradle of Humankind this National Heritage Site is a collection of hominin fossil sites which also form part of the same World Heritage Site of the Taung Fossil Site. Located in the Muldersdrift area, about 40km northwest of Johannesburg these sites have some of the richest concentrations of fossil hominid bearing sites in the world.

The limestone dolomitic caves of the area have produced and continue to produce an abundance of scientific information on human evolution from the past 3.5 million years. Together with the rich faunal and plant fossil record, this provides with us a window into the past into a time when our earliest ancestors were evolving and changing, proving that the African continent is undoubtedly the beginnings of humankind.

There are a number of sites that make up this serial declaration, with the most famous and significant being the Sterkfontein Caves, which in 1947, produced Mrs. Ples, the skull of an adult Australopithecus africanus, and in 1994 Little Foot, a complete skeleton again of A.africanus. Theearliest evidence of the controlled use of fire has also been found at Swartkrans, indicating an important shift in human evolution.

3) Makapan Valley

National Heritage Site declaration: 28 June 2002

Inscription as a World Heritage Site: 1999

Makapan is a paleontological site of international significance and is also part of the World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind. Situated in the Waterberg northeast of Mokopane in the Limpopo Province, the site plays an important role in our understanding of human evolution.

The network of limestone caves have yielded thousands of fossil bones, including A.africanus and other mammals. It also contains a remarkable unbroken sequence of archaeological remains from the Early Stone Age through to the recent Iron Age, and some of the earliest evidence of the controlled use of fire by our ancestors

The caves are also the site of the clash between the Boers and Kekana people in 1854. After attacks on the Voortrekkers at Moorsdrift, Chief Mokopane (Makapan) and his people, together with their herds of cattle, were besieged in one of the caves. The siege lasted almost a month with thousands dying from starvation and dehydration.


4) Mapungubwe (Hill of Jackals)

National Heritage Site declaration: 28 June 2002

Inscription as a World Heritage site: 2003

The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape another one of South Africa’s World Heritage sites and gives us a picture of the rise and fall of the first indigenous kingdom in the sub-continent. The site is situated on the fertile confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers bordering South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Social, economic and political changes took place here between AD900 and AD1300 due to extensive and sophisticated trade networks and successful farming. The wealth this created led to the evolution of class distinction and the establishment of elusive, sacred leadership. These ideological and architectural shifts led to changes in settlement patterns with the Paramount Chief / King secluded in a palace on top of the hill, separated from commoners on the plains below

Due to the Mapungubwe’s location astride north/south and east/west trade routes, it was able to control trade with Arabia, India and China through the East African ports, as well as trade throughout Southern Africa. Gold and ivory were traded for salt, glass beads, cloth and Chinese porcelain.

The decline of Mapungubwe is thought to have been caused by climatic changes. Around AD1300, a dry cooler period began and with the decrease in rainfall the land was unable to support the large population and people began to disperse. An alternative theory associates the decline with a change in trade routes. Whatever the cause, the power base of Mapungubwe shifted to Great Zimbabwe.

5) Kaditshwene

National Heritage Site declaration: 2 September 2011

This large Iron Age settlement near Zeerust is historically considered to be the capital of the Bahurutse nation and the largest BaTswana settlement in Southern Africa

Occupied between the 1600s and 1800s, the large number of preserved furnaces are evidence of a thriving metal working industry based on complex indigenous technologies of mining and smelting iron and copper. Trade in the resulting worked metal and successful farming generated substantial wealth for the Bahurutse.

The population of Kaditshwene was estimated to have been between 16 000 and 20 000 in the early 1800s, equal to, if not larger, than the population of Cape Town at the time. This large population is evident from both the extensive settlement remains and historical accounts by early missionaries in the area.

Sophisticated indigenous building techniques are also evident through the ruins of the stone walls and circular dwellings. These techniques appear similar to techniques still used today in nearby villages and indicate the ongoing transmission of the construction technique which underpins the historical achievements of the Bahurutse.


6) Sarah Bartman Burial Site

National Heritage Site declaration: 25 April 2008

Sarah was the famous Khoekhoen woman who was exhibited as an oddity in 19th century Europe and stands as a symbol of the inhumane treatment of Africans based on false notions of racial superiority.

She was taken to Europe in 1810 and displayed half naked in a cage, where she became an object of fascination due to her large buttocks, skin colour and exoticism. The idea and image of the “Hottentot Venus” (a derogatory and cruel “show”name) captured British popular culture.

In France she caught the attention of George Cuvier, who turned her into an object of scientific and medical research. Europeans were at the time obsessed with their superiority and proving other races, particularly Africans, to be inferior and over sexed. Sarah’s physique was used as evidence of this, to the point that Cuvier concluded that she was a link between animals and humans stating that she was more ape-like than human.

When she died in 1816 Cuvier continued his brutal exploration and dissected her body, displaying her pickled organs in the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris for over a century. The inhumane treatment she endured is representative of the suffering, dispossession and loss of dignity of indigenous people, wrought by racial discrimination and a disregard of humanity.

After the end of Apartheid her remains was finally was returned home and she was afforded a dignified burial on a hill overlooking the Gamtoos Valley in the Eastern Cape. With her dignity restored, her grave is a reminder to all to strive towards recognising injustices and work towards the upliftment of human rights, dignity and life.

Sarah’s remains were finally repatriated in 2002 and afforded a dignified burial on Vergaderingskop, a hill overlooking the Gamtoos Valley in the Eastern Cape,. With her dignity restored, her grave is a reminder to all to strive towards recognizing injustices and work towards the upliftment of human rights, dignity and life.


7) Lake Fundudzi

National Heritage Site declaration: 7 February 2014

The first sacred site to be declared a National Heritage Site, Lake Fundudzi holds significant intangible heritage value and is closely associated with the living heritage of the VhaVenda people. The site is also scientifically significant with its relatively unaltered natural environment due to its sacredness.

Situated in the northeast of Limpopo in the Soutpansberg, Lake Fundudzi is viewed as the only natural inland lake in Southern Africa. Three rivers, the Mutale (or Mavhidzelele), Godoni (or Thsidumbi or Govha), and Muiladi, flow into the lake. The lake is geologically unique in that it is one of few lakes to be formed due to a landslide. Scientifically, the sediments of the lake are important as they may hold a wealth of information aboutthe geological history of the area.

Lake Fundudzi is a revered sacred site for the VhaVenda people, especially the Vhatavhatsindi (“People of the Pool”) and is the focus point of folklore, myths and ceremonial rituals. The Lake is home to the Vhatavhatsindi ancestors, the python God of Fertility and the White Crocodile, who all watch over the Vhatavhatsindi. It is the White Crocodile that protects the ancestral spirits of the Lake

Please see article by Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit for more on this site:


8) Voortrekker Monument

National Heritage Site declaration: 8 July 2011

The iconic granite structure renowned for it’s Art Deco design commemorates the Voortrekkers that left the Cape between 1835 and 1854. On 16th December 1938, descendants of the Boer leaders laid the cornerstone when the building commences. Later on 16 December 1949, the monument was officially opened.

Every aspect of the monument symbolizes and honours the Voortrekkers who embarked on the treacherous journey. The twenty-seven marble friezes depict the history of the Great Trek and incorporate aspects of everyday life, work, beliefs and culture of the Boers. The story culminates in the Battle of Blood River where a party of Voortrekkers under Andries Pretorius, overcame a Zulu army which greatly outnumbered them. The event is pivotal to the sense of Afrikaner nationalism and is recalled as a devotion to the vow made to God to honour the day should they be victorious. A copy of the Vow, the anthem “Die Stem” and of the land deal between Piet Retief and King Dingaan are buried under the foundation stone of the Monument.

There are many symbolic features of the monument including the cenotaph which honours the vow, the statue of a Voortrekker woman and two children honouring the strength and courage of the women, statues of Voortrekker leaders, and a depiction of the 64 ox-wagon laager used at the Battle of Blood River.

Through all the symbolism the site serves as a reminder of Afrikaner Nationalism which is essential in South Africa’s political history and development of our current democracy.


9) Union Buildings

National Heritage Site declaration: 2 December 2013

The Union Buildings in Pretoria, together with 120 Plein Street and Tuynhuys in Cape Town, are significant as the administrative offices of the South African Cabinet. They have all played pivotal roles in the history of South Africa through their associations with events, developments, and work of people and organisations that have shaped the political history of our country and continue to do so.

The Union Buildings were designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910 and completed in 1913. This stately landmark was designed to symbolise the unity of a divided people (notably the English and Afrikaners) in the establishment of the Union government and later the Republic of South Africa under Apartheid rule. More significantly it has become a symbol of the Democracy of South Africa today.

In the history of the site, the Union Buildings have been the venue of numerous historical events, notably the 1956 Women’s March and the 1994 inauguration of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

Tuynhuys has been the official residence and gues g;[pthouse of almost all governors of the Cape since the late 1700s and Stamkm nn jk]’l;.p.RMOjl unced the end of Apartheid on 18th March 1992.

10) Parliament

National Heritage Site declaration: 7 April 2014)

The Houses of Parliament and the Parliamentary precinct are home to the legislative capital of South Africa. Just as South Africa has undergone many changes and transformations, so have the buildings of Parliament. The varying needs of government have required changes and additions be made to the building. Through all these changes, however, the stately Victorian Neo-Classic façade has been retained, with African influences introduced in the interior of the building.

The first building was completed in 1885, nestled in VOC Company Gardens, which was originally established to supply the refreshment station at the Castle. The building arose from the need to join the two houses of the Cape Colony at the time – Cape Legislative Assembly (Lower House) and Cape Legislative Council (Upper House). Interestingly, it was the first house in Cape Town to make use of an electrified light system.

A new building was added when the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 and was used as the Chamber of the Union Parliament until 1961. The old chambers were used by the Senate throughout the Union and Republic, until 1980.

The second chamber of Cape Parliament was converted into a stately dining room where Prime Minister Harold MacMillian made his famous “Winds of Change” speech which clearly stated the end of British Imperial rule in Africa.


11) John LangalibaleleDube Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 15 June 2012

Philosopher, educator, politician, author and founding President General of the ANC

John Dube (11 February 1871 – 11 February 1946) studied at Oberlin College in the United States of America and was a promoter of industrial education, lecturing on the need for it in emancipating Africans.

In 1901 he established the Zulu Christian Industrial School in Ohlange, later renamed the Ohlange Institution. This was the first education institution established by Africans which, Dube was determined, would be a success without any white assistance. In 1903 he founded the Zulu/English newspaper Ilanga lase Natal (the Natal Sun) which celebrated its centenary in 2003.

Dube played a leading role in the Black opposition to the Union of South Africa and was part of the unsuccessful delegation that went to Britain to present a petition to the English House of Commons in London protesting against the Union. These activities and agitation against the 1913 Natives Land Act led to the formation of the South African Native National Congress (which later became the ANC) in Bloemfontein in 1912. Dube was elected and accepted the position as the first president.

Through the conflict between pride in his African traditions and his western missionary education he would at times seem inconsistent in his actions. However, he remained consistent in his belief in, and emphasis on African unity and equality for all, appealing throughout his life for unity among all South Africans.

12) Charlotte Maxeke Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 30 July 2010

Teacher, social worker, politician, South Africa’s first black woman graduate and founder of the Bantu Women’s League of South Africa

Charlotte Maxeke (7 April 1874 – 16 October 1939) studied at the Wilberforce University in Ohio, in the Unites States, through a scholarship she received while on tour to the US with a choir group. She graduated with a BSc becoming the first South African Black woman graduate with a degree. Greatly influenced by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC), and through connections with the Ethiopian Church, Maxeke played a significant role in founding the AMEC in South Africa. The church later elected her President of the Women’s Missionary Society.

When she returned to South Africa, she and her husband established the Wilberforce Institute. She later established an employment bureau for Africans and was appointed the first African woman parole officer. Through this she was exposed to the effects of migrant labour on family life and what this social disruption caused. Both she and her husband became active in politics whilst in Johannesburg and both attended the launch of the South African Native National Congress in Bloemfontein in 1912.

From this she helped organise an anti-pass demonstration in Bloemfontein in 1913 which led to her involvement in establishing the Bantu Women’s League of the SANNC in 1918. As a leader of this organisation she led a delegation to discuss the pass laws for women with Prime Minister Louis Botha. She remained politically active throughout her adult life, participating in various protests against low wages, supporting multi-racial movements, and voting rights for women as well as assisting in the formation of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union.

Through her many achievements and her lifelong activism, she was honoured as the “Mother of Black Freedom in South Africa” by Dr AB Xuma at the All African Convention in 1935.

13) Lilian Ngoyi Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 30 July 2010

Politician, anti-apartheid activist, Treason Trialist, President of ANC Women’s League, President of FEDSAW

Lilian Ngoyi (25 September 1911 – 13 March 1980), is fondly remembered as ‘Ma Ngoyi”. She started her political activism in the Garment Workers’ Union and joined the ANC’s Defiance Campaign in 1952. She later joined the ANC Women’s League and through her energetic and passionate approach she quickly gained recognition and was elected president of the league only a year later.

Ngoyi was a founding member of the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW), a multi-racial organisation that fought for the equality of all South African women and the eradication of economic and social barriers impeding their empowerment. In 1956, she was elected president of the Federation and was also the first women to be elected into the ANC National Executive Council.

On 9th August of that same year, together with Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, she led a delegation of 20 000 women in a march on the Union Buildings in protest against the expansion of Pass Laws to Black women. It was she i who knocked on the door of Prime Minister JG Strydom’s office to hand over the petition containing thousands of signatures which they had collected. This event was later referred to as the Woman’s March and is subsequently commemorated as Women’s Day.

Ngoyi was charged with high treason in 1956, together with 155 others, in what was to become known as the Treason Trial. Although they were all acquitted after a four year trial, she was again arrested and detained, mostly in solitary confinement, under the State of Emergency of 1960. After her release she received a number of restrictive banning orders which confined her to her home in Soweto until her death on 13 March 1980.

Through her work, she embarked as a true female leader, combining the identities of an African, a woman, a mother and a worker. She highlighted how restrictions and racial segregation affected the African women, broke down the African family and denied a future to the African child.

14) Helen Joseph Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 30 July 2010

Teacher, social political activist and Treason Trialist

Helen Joseph (8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992) was a British-born teacher who arrived in South Africa in 1931 after teaching in India. 1951 she joined the Garment Workers Union which exposed her to the injustices of the Apartheid regime, which angered her deeply. Joseph was one of the few white people to get involved in ANC activities in 1950s and became a founder member of the Congress of Democrats.

Appalled by the plight of Black South African women she was instrumental in establishing FEDSAW, and during her service as the National Secretary she met and befriended Lilian Ngoyi. Together with Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn they led the march of 20 000 women to the Union Buildings on 9th August 1956.

During the four year Treason Trial (1956 – 1960) she became friends with Nelson and Winnie Mandela and later often helped look after their daughters Zinzi and Zenani, along with many other children of political activists.

She received her first banning orders in 1957 and took great pride in stretching her restrictions to the limit. Shortly after the expiration of her banning order in 1962, she visited political activists who had been banished to remote areas of South Africa, delivering relief supplies. Upon her return, she became the first person to be placed under house arrest under the newly promulgated Sabotage Act and narrowly escaped a number of assassination attempts including gunshots through her bedroom window and a bomb on her front gate.

Despite the severe restrictions placed on her, she refused to go into exile and in 1992 she was awarded the ANC’s Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe medal for her devotion to the liberation struggle. The Isitwalandwe/Seaparankoe is the highest honour awarded by the ANC to those who made outstanding contributions and sacrifices to the struggle.

15) RahimaMoosa Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 5 November 2012

Shop Steward of Cape Town Food and Canning Workers Union, Transvaal Indian Congress and FEDSAW

Rahima Moosa (8 April 1905 – 25 December 1992) worked as a secretary at a food factory where she joined the Cape Town Food and Canning Workers Union in 1943. She was elected as a shop steward and worked tirelessly in the Union.

Moosa was also a member of FEDSAW and, together with Helen Joseph and Lilian Ngoyi collected signatures for a petition against the pass laws. In 1956 while heavily pregnant, she together with Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, led a 20 000 strong delegation of women to the Union Buildings to hand over the thousands of signatures.

In the 1960s Moosa became a “listed person”, a label which remained with her until 1990 when ANC and other liberation movements were unbanned. This meant restrictions on her movements and constant police harassment and surveillance. After a heart attack in the 1970s her health deteriorated until her death in 1993, just before the first democratic elections.

16) Robert Sobukwe Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 23 August 2013

Teacher, lawyer, lecturer and founding member and first president of the Pan African Congress

Robert Sobukwe (5 December 1924 – 27 February 1977) was a charismatic and determined leader of the Pan African Congress and a strong Africanist. His interest in politics was aroused when he studied Native Administration at the University of Fort Hare, in 1947 and this interest was further enhanced by the environment and atmosphere at the university.

He joined the ANC Youth League at the University in 1948 and was elected president of the Student Representative Council (SRC) in 1949. In the SRC he proved to be an effective orator, establishing himself as an important figure among his peers. He later became the national secretary of the ANC Youth League where he adopted an Africanist position within the ANC

As his scepticism of the ANC’s multi-racial stance increased, Sobukwe became instrumental in initiating an Africanist breakaway which lead to the formation of the Pan African Congress (PAC) in 1958. He was unanimously elected as the president of the movement at its inaugural conference

Sobukwe was arrested and sentenced to three years for incitement after the Sharpeville massacre, where police shot and killed 69 unarmed PAC demonstrators on 21 March 1960.

At the end of his sentence the government enacted a new clause which empowered them to extend detention time indefinitely. As a result, under this clause,Sobukwe’s prison time was extended and he was sent to Robben Island for a further six years. As this clause was never used to detain anyone else, it became known as the “Sobukwe Clause”.

When he was finally released in 1969, Sobukwe was banished to Kimberley where he was joined by his family and endured many restrictions. During this time he studied law and opened a law firm in 1975. Shortly after this he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in 1977.

17) Steve Biko Grave

National Heritage Site declaration: 23 August 2013

First president of South African Students Organisation (SASO), founder and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement

Steve Biko (18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977) was one of South Africa’s most influential and radical student activists and later became a founder and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement. His death in detention was one of the strongest challenges to the Apartheid government and he is considered a hero and martyr of the liberation struggle.

While he was studying at the University of Natal’s non-European medical school in Wentworth he became involved in student politics and was elected onto the SRC (a member of the National Union of South African Students). Unhappy with the under-representation of black students, he became actively involved in establishing SASO and was elected its first president in 1968. SASO eventually evolved into the influential Black Consciousness Movement, which aimed to empower and mobilise urban South African Blacks.

Biko was later expelled from the University for his Political Activism and became the co-founder and leader of the Black People’s Convention. The Black People’s Convention became the central organisation for the Black Consciousness Movement, which continued to grow throughout the 1970s.

In 1973, he was banned and restricted to his hometown of King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. During this time he busied himself in community organisations and projects based on self-reliance. After the 1976 Soweto Uprising, Biko was targeted by police culminating in his arrest on 18 August 1977. Biko was interrogated and severely tortured for hours whilst in custody and on 11 September was transported to the Pretoria Central Prison from the Eastern Cape, naked and chained on the back of a bakkie. Biko died shortly after arriving at the Pretoria Prison on 12 September. Officials claimed his death was due to an extended hunger strike, but an autopsy revealed extensive bruising and abrasions and severe brain injuries. News of his death spread quickly; stressing the repressive nature of the police and generating mass outcry against police brutality.


18) SAS Pietermaritzburg

National Heritage Site declaration: 23 August 2013

The Pietermaritzburg, or PMB, is the first shipwreck to be declared a National Heritage Site under the National Heritage Resources Act. The wreck is located off Miller Point, near Simons Town in False Bay and the ship played an important role in both South African and world history.

The Pietermaritzburg, a World War II Algerine Class Ocean Minesweeper, was launched in Scotland in 1943 and was originally named HMS Pelorous. The Algerine Class were designed as multipurpose vessels and equipped with mine and submarine detecting equipment.

The Pelorous’ war service was primarily on convey escort duties in the Atlantic Ocean. Her crowning moment came when she was the lead ship of the Allied armada in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, clearing the route of mines, making way for the other ships to launch. Later in the war Pelorus was the first Allied ship to arrive in Singapore after the surrender of Japan in 1945

After the war, in 1947, the vessel was sold to the South African Navy. She was initially renamed the HMSAS Maritzburg, but after representations by the residents of Pietermaritzburg she was formally renamed the HMSAS Pietermaritzburg in January 1948. Her main duty with the Navy was as a training vessel for midshipmen and later as a dormitory ship in Simonstown until 1991.

When it proved impossible to raise the funds required to refit her as a museum, she was ceremoniously scuttled off Millers Point by the Navy on 19 November 1994 to form an artificial reef.


19) Robben Island

National Heritage Site declaration: 26 May 2006

Inscription as a World Heritage Site: 1999

This well-known World Heritage Site is most famous as a political prison but has a rich multi-layered history spanning over 400 years. The island and its buildings, especially the Apartheid era maximum security prison, bear witness to the triumph of democracy and freedom over racial and social oppression.

Located 6km off the coast of Cape Town, in Table Bay, the island was used as a replenishing station on the sea route to the East during the 16th century, as fresh meat and drinkable water could be obtained there, while avoiding interactions with indigenous inhabitants of the Cape. After Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in the Cape and the establishment of the Dutch settlement on the mainland, the island became a place of banishment, imprisonment and exile for criminals and for political prisoners opposing Dutch rule in the East Indies.

The prison was closed and a general infirmary established on the island when Britain annexed the Cape in 1805. Due to pressure on mainland hospitals, chronically and mentally ill patients and lepers were sent to Robben Island. The island remained a leper colony until 1931 and was then reserved for military defence with the approach of World War II.

In 1959 the island became a maximum security prison mainly for black political prisoners and criminals. The first political prisoners to arrive on the island included those convicted at the infamous Rivonia Trial, most notably Nelson Mandela. The last prisoners left the island in 1992 and the prison finally closed in 1996 and was subsequently converted to a museum.

The island’s long, sombre history as the “dumping ground” and prison for those deemed socially undesirable ended with the end of Apartheid. Robben Island has become a national and international symbol of the strength and triumph of the human spirit over oppression.

20) Victor Verster or now Drakenstein Prison

National Heritage Site declaration: 15 July 2009

This low-security farm prison outside Paarl in the Western Cape was fundamental in South Africa’s peaceful transition from Apartheid to a democratic Republic. It was here that the National Party government engaged with the liberation movements and laid the foundations for the negotiations that led to a free South Africa.

In 1984 Nelson Mandela was transferred from the maximum security prison on Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town. After recovering from tuberculosis, he was transferred to Victor Verster where he was housed in a warder’s house with a large garden, swimming pool and a cook (a previous warder from Robben Island). It was here that he spent the last period of his prison time, negotiating for a truly free South Africa for all.

The interactions that took place between the then banned liberation movements and the Apartheid government at Victor Verster culminated in the pivotal release of Mandela on 11 February 1990. He walked out the gates of the prison holding Winnie’s hand with his other fist clenched in the salute of the liberation movement to be met by crowds of people and media.