Mandela heritage sites: One year on

On the anniversary of Madiba’s passing, will visitors who flock to heritage sites be satisfied?

The Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu pictured in July 2012. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

ROBBEN ISLAND - Mandela's prison home for 18 years

Seen as a key destination for any overseas visitors to South Africa, Robben Island remains high on the tourism checklist, especially for those seeking to experience something of Madiba's legacy.

But since taking over from Correctional Services in 1997, the Robben Island Museum (RIM) has received extensive flak for the state of the World Heritage Site and the quality of prison tours.

Efforts have been made to rectify some deterioration; most notably an extensive cull was launched in 2009/10 to halt the destruction caused by rabbits and fallow deer.

However, problems remain.

As recently as September 2014, DA Shadow Tourism Minister James Vos called the mismanagement of the island an insult to Nelson Mandela's memory.

He added that visitor numbers declined by five percent between December 2012 and December 2013.

Birds have moved into areas of Robben Island left vacant after many residents left. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

While many visitors are only exposed to the well-worn route from the harbour to the quarry and the prison cells on the three-and-a-half-hour excursion, unseen maintenance issues continue to plague the island.

But even on the tourist route there are persistent problems which can lead to disappointment. Common complaints include feeling rushed, a lack of information boards, few concessions made for non-English speakers and technical problems with delayed boats or cancelled trips.

While using ex-political prisoners as guides should, in theory, provide a valuable link to Robben Island's apartheid history, independent tour guide Francoise Armour says stories are often embellished, inaudible and/or inaccurate.

"Some of the bus drivers do not mention anything about anyone else who was on the island," she told Eyewitness News .

"Sometimes they say things that are simply not true. But the foreigners will never know. One guy makes up a whole story that I've never heard before."

Many of Armour's clients do not speak English as their first language, but she says she is not allowed to provide translation for her own groups.

The complaint is reflected on visitor rating website TripAdvisor, where a French tourist describes the trip as 'poorly organised' and lacking in audio guides or leaflets in different languages. He adds that even French speakers with adequate English find it "incomprehensible".

Armour says while she has noticed some slight improvements in visitor experiences recently, the boats remain a major area of concern where, she says, nothing has improved.

Apart from the condition of the vessels, which leads to breakdowns, delays and cancellations, Armour says crew have been seen soliciting for tips by "rattling boxes at people".

While she agrees that vast improvements, such as allowing visitors to roam more freely on the island or stay overnight, are entirely possible she says there appears to be little enthusiasm for it.

"There's a lack of a will there, and I cannot see the logic of it because they can make more money."

Armour adds that any cited financial constraints do not, in her view, explain the issues.

"Where is the money? Where is it all going? I mean those boats are full - every time I'm there people are arriving and being turned away."

While Armour was pleased with the comprehensive response she got to her concerns raised with the CEO Sibongiseni Mkhize, she admits "I haven't seen much action since then".

She adds that the museum's lack of social media presence is a "huge fail".

While the condition of the island itself has come under criticism, the museum did overhaul the ferry terminal at the V&A Waterfront. The island's website has also seen an overhaul in the last year, offering slick digital elements.

RIM was contacted at various times in order to get comment or provide input regarding planned improvements, but has to date failed to respond.


Number 8115 in Orlando West, Soweto, remains a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Johannesburg.

The modest house on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane streets was first occupied by Mandela in 1946 with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase. He continued to reside here after his second marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela until the time of his arrest.

The former statesman's family continued to occupy the house until 1996 when the couple divorced and it was subsequently turned into a public heritage site.

A sign points visitors to Mandela House in Soweto. Picture: Phumlani Pikoli/EWN.

In _Long Walk to Freedom _Mandela described the house as "the opposite of grand" but his "first true home".

The house underwent a major restoration and renovation project between 2008 and 2009, during which time it was closed to visitors. This saw the development of a visitor centre as well as the installation of exhibitions with information about the dwelling's history.

The 40-minute tour of the home offers tourists an insight into the life and times of the Mandelas during their occupation of the house, and is often added to the itinerary of wider Soweto tours.

The official website states: "The newly restored house and exhibition installations are intended to reflect the various layers and eras during which the Mandela family lived at 8115 Orlando West and the stories are told through sound and film, interpretive panels and images, and introductory guided tours."

Ndabezinhle Mthethwa, visiting from the UK, described the experience as "very good" and "really tremendous in order to understand the history of South Africa".

"They explained everything, the history of Mandela's family, what happened in this house - the pictures tell a story… and they're keeping it in good shape, which is good for future generations to come," he added.

WATCH: EWN visits Mandela House to gauge whether tourists are satisfied with the experience.

While Qunu is known as Mandela's ancestral home, the nearby village of Mvezo is his real birthplace.

It is also the setting for the third Mandela museum to open in the Eastern Cape.

But visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the facility on it's scheduled opening date will be sorely disappointed.

When Eyewitness News visited the site on Thursday, journalists found that construction is still underway.

A family spokesperson, who identified himself as only Papi, barred reporters from entering or taking photos on the property.

From a distance, the beautifully structured museum building blends in well with the Xhosa-style design and colour scheme of the homestead of Mandela's grandson, Chief Mandla Mandela.

Papi refused to answer any questions, only saying that the chief may give some clarity on Saturday, when he's back from official engagements.

Construction underway: The Nelson Mandela Museum in Mvezo on 4 December 2014, a day before it was scheduled to open its doors to visitors. Picture: Vumani Mkhize/EWN.