Mvezo is a small village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. It is known for being the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, and is now an open air museum which forms part of the Nelson Mandela Birthplace Museum.
History of Mvezo
Standing on the banks of the Mbashe River, not far from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Mvezo appears to be a small and unassuming village. However, it was here that the famous anti-apartheid and former South African Prime Minister Nelson Mandela was born into a chiefly family within the Tembu people.
Mandela’s family are inextricably linked with the village, with his umbilical cord being buried there in line with Xhosa tradition. Equally, it was from the same village that Mandela’s father was stripped of his authority and expelled by the apartheid government, having to flee while Mandela was only a baby.
The Nelson Mandela Birthplace Museum is part of three sites that make up the Nelson Mandela Museum in its entirety. The sites were opened on 11 February 2000 by Mandela himself, the Ministry of Arts and Culture, as well as members from traditional and Civic leadership bodies.
The museum offers a detailed and authentic journey through the important spaces, landscapes, and sites that have shaped Mandela’s life. It examines and commemorates his life and work from childhood to adulthood, through its exhibitions, publications, and educational and cultural programmes.
Indeed, the Nelson Mandela Birthplace Museum in Mvezo is not purely a museum to commemorate and educate about the life and work of Nelson Mandela; rather, it is a vibrant and evolving space for local social organisation, skill development, and a place for local infrastructure to be created and reinforced.
The outcome of this has meant the creation of jobs in the short term such as building and construction, and in the long term such as tourism. This has had a particularly profound impact on local women, who hold many of the jobs made available. The space also aims to preserve traditional means of crafting – for example, making wattle fences and screens, and the use of specific masonry tools and techniques – which has also allowed otherwise unskilled labour to be employed.
Today, the Nelson Mandela Birthplace Museum in Mvezo is visited by thousands of South African and international tourists every year. It is one of South Africa’s most significant heritage institutions.
Getting to Mvezo
The city Mthatha, also a focal point on the Nelson Mandela educational route, is an hour drive along a main ‘2’ road from Mvezo by car.
Mvezo is a 14 hour drive from Cape Town, primarily along two main roads, the ‘1’ and the ‘9’. There are also frequent flights from Cape Town to Mvezo that take just over 6 hours.
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