9 of South Africa's best cultural attractions - one for each province

Paul Ash rounds up some great places to explore our country's rich history

25 June 2017 - 00:00 By PAUL ASH
A Nelson Mandela figure stands near some joyful children in the 'Voting Line', a  sculpture at the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth.
A Nelson Mandela figure stands near some joyful children in the 'Voting Line', a sculpture at the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth.
Image: Chris Marais

1) EASTERN CAPE: THE VOTING LINE

There are lots of homages to Nelson Mandela in South Africa but the Voting Line - a metal cut-out statue of Madiba standing by a line of figures representing all those who participated in the peaceful 1994 election - in Port Elizabeth is one of the best. The statue is part of the Donkin Heritage Trail, which tours the historic buildings and landmarks of PE's "Central" district. 

2) GAUTENG: CRADLE OF HUMANKIND

It's now world-famous - and rightly so - but even though it is not a "hidden gem" the Cradle should be on every South African's bucket list.

Since 1947, the Sterkfontein Caves have yielded the remains of hundreds of Australopithecus africanus hominids,who lived here nearly 3 million years ago. Recent discoveries such as "Little Foot" and the child "Karabo" raised its profile even further.

Start at the Maropeng visitor centre (phone 014-577-9000) for an interactive journey along a timeline of human history spanning millions of years. 



3) KWAZULU-NATAL: THE ISANDLWANA BATTLEFIELD

The plain and its brooding sphinx-shaped rock where King Cetshwayo's great Zulu army sliced through a British encampment in the first days of the Anglo-Zulu War in January 1879 and rocked the Empire on its heels is a most evocative place.

Let battlefields guide Lindizwe Ngobese, great-grandson of Mehlokazulu of the iNgobamakhosi Regiment, tell you the story of that fateful day. Lindizwe is based at Isandlwana Lodge, a community-run hotel from where he runs tours that cover Zulu history and culture. Visit the website or phone 034-271-8301.

4) NORTH WEST: MPHEBATHO CULTURAL MUSEUM

My best discovery during last year's Sunday Times Finders Keepers expedition was this superb community-run museum near the Bakgatla gate into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

The museum examines the culture and history of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela people, who have lived in the area for centuries. Displays include ancient Batswana artefacts and installations, while the stone wall enclosures of the first Chief Kgosi Pilane's Iron Age settlement have been recreated on the grounds of what used to be a school.

There are regular storytelling and poetry sessions in the boma and friendly and excellent guides to show you around.

Visit the museum at 499 Moruleng Boulevard, Moruleng or e-mail mphebatho@executivemail.co.za

Portrait of Isaac Matiwana, acting chief regent of the Mpondomise, 1932, in the McGregor Museum.
Portrait of Isaac Matiwana, acting chief regent of the Mpondomise, 1932, in the McGregor Museum.
Image: Duggan-Cronin

5) NORTHERN CAPE: THE MCGREGOR MUSEUM

This museum's attractions cover botany, geology, ethnography, rock art and local history. Since this is in Kimberley, many of the dioramas and exhibits focus on the diamond rush and the Boer siege of the town in 1899.

There are also lovely scenes of Xhosa people trekking with their cattle and our early ancestors hunting bushpigs by a long-lost river. It is worth spending a whole afternoon here, then heading into the town where it all happened. 

 

6) FREE STATE: BASOTHO CULTURAL VILLAGE

This beautiful village 15km from Harrismith surrounds a courtyard and spans the cultural, social and architectural traditions of the Basotho people from the 16th century to the present. It's a carefully constructed piece of living theatre with a tour that starts in the chief's homestead with a sip of traditional beer, followed by a visit to the bone thrower for a reading.

All your senses are engaged, from tasting motoho (porridge made of sorghum) or dipadi (toasted ground maize), listening to music played on traditional instruments to touching household objects.

Phone Mmasi Mosikatsana on 072-340-1277 or e-mail mmasi@sacr.fs.gov.za

7) MPUMALANGA: SUDWALA CAVES

In the mid-1800s, Somquba , a brother of the Swazi heir apparent, hid in these deep, fascinating caves with his followers and hundreds of cattle during the struggle to oust his brother.

The cavern where they lived is vast; the Crystal Chamber - named for its sparkling aragonite crystals - less so. The monthly tours that visit the chamber, 2,000m down, are not for everybody. As the website notes: "Anything too wide is liable to get perfectly stuck". 



 

8) LIMPOPO: MAPUNGUBWE

The fascinating lost city of Mapungubwe was home to the first indigenous kingdom between 1075AD and 1300AD. For centuries, artefacts left behind by this early civilisation - abandoned during an early bout of climate change - lay undisturbed on top of Mapungubwe Hill.

Some, including the famous - and tiny - golden rhino are displayed in the museum. There is also a spectacular view of the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashi rivers. 

 

9) WESTERN CAPE: MABONENG TOWNSHIP ARTS EXPERIENCE

This fantastic programme has helped turn over 70 township homes into public galleries. On walking tours of Langa, Gugulethu or Kayamandi, visitors first stop in at the gallery then visit people in their homes. It's all about looking at great art and graffiti walls, tasting local food and hearing people's stories. Visit the website or e-mail ngwenya@maboneng.com

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