By Thulani Nzima
South Africa’s most loved citizen and the father of our democracy, former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, passed away peacefully on the night of December 5, 2013.
Nelson Mandela single-handedly put South Africa on the map for billions of people around the world. Travel anywhere and say you are from South Africa and without a doubt the first word people will utter is ‘Mandela’. This is because he is not only a hero for all South Africans, forever changing the course of our combined history, but also because his incredible leadership ability, compassion and vision made him a hero for the whole world, earning him iconic status in every country on earth.
Mandela opened up our beautiful country, once a pariah state, to the rest of the world and his name alone has attracted millions of tourists to South Africa every year, wanting to walk in his footsteps.
In 1993, the year before Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, South Africa had 3.4 million international arrivals. In 2012 South Africa welcomed 13.5 million people to the country, of which close to 9.2 million were tourists.
His legacy has transformed the tourism landscape in South Africa. Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for 27 years, is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s biggest tourism attractions. The street in which he lived in Soweto, Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize Winners – Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has been the catalyst for Soweto’s thriving tourism industry. Other important sites in Mandela’s story, Liliesleaf Farm, once the headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the site of Mandela’s arrest near Howick, have both been developed into tourism attractions.
The Apartheid Museum, Freedom Park and the Hector Pieterson Museum are just some of the other tourism sites that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year thanks to the inspiration of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela will be sorely missed forever by every South African. We are however heartened that South Africans and the rest of the world can continue to be inspired and touched by him by visiting the places where he walked, talked, planned, dreamed, laughed, cried and ultimately changed the course of South Africa and the world’s history.
In the next few days and going forward, we will remain true to the authentic soul of this nation: a warmly welcoming and hospitable people who now, in great sadness – but with immense gratitude for the life of this great man – welcome people from near and far who arrive to mourn Madiba’s loss with us.
The writer is from the CEO of the South African Tourism Board