Heritage

Home of Legends

Cultural melting pot and birthplace of iconic world leader, Nelson Mandela, the rich heritage and diversity of the Eastern Cape with its people, sights and sounds interwoven into the tapestry of what makes this region so unique. Become encapsulated in the history of a proud region and its people.

ENOCH MANKAYI SONTONGA

Born around 1873 in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape Died 18 April 1905 Sontonga composed Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika which was...

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ENOCH MANKAYI SONTONGA

Born around 1873 in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape Died 18 April 1905

Sontonga composed Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika which was to become the first chorus and verse in the national anthem of South Africa. The song was first sung in public in 1899 at the ordination of a Methodist minister. As a trained teacher, Sontonga later also trained as a choirmaster and photographer before writing the first verse and chorus of the song that became part of South Africa’s national anthem. S.E.K. M Mqhayi wrote the additional seven verses of the hymn.

The song – which is a prayer for God’s blessing on the land and its people – became the official national anthem of the African National Congress (ANC) after it was adopted at the first meeting of the South African Native National Congress, the forerunner of the ANC.

Sontonga’s grave was declared a national monument and memorial site, unveiled by President Nelson Mandela in September 1996. The South African Order of Meritorious Service (Gold) was bestowed on Sontonga during the same ceremony.

STEVE BIKO

Born 18 December 1946 in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape Died 12 September 1977 “The most potent weapon of the...

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STEVE BIKO

Born 18 December 1946 in King William’s Town, Eastern Cape Died 12 September 1977

“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”

Biko studied medicine at the University of Natal Medical School and began his political career by becoming involved in the multiracial National Union of South African Students, following which he helped found the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO). As a student leader, Biko went on to become the first president of SASO and was well known for his writings, activism and slogan “black is beautiful”.

The early 1970’s saw Biko expelled from the University of Natal as a result of his political activities. He however went on to become the honorary president of the Black People’s Convention (BPC). 1973 saw him being banned by the Apartheid regime, disallowing him from speaking to more than one person at a time. He was also restricted to the King William’s Town magisterial district, resulting in the formation of a number of grassroots organisations based in the Eastern Cape.

Biko and his party played a significant role in organising the protests in the Soweto Uprising in June 1976, where a number of school children were shot. Biko then became a bigger target for the Apartheid regime and following his arrest in September 1976, he died in a Pretoria prison, sparking international outcry about the brutality of the Apartheid regime.

CHRIS HANI

Born 28 June 1942 in the Transkei area of Cofimvaba Died 10 April 1993 “What right do I have to hold back, to rest,...

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CHRIS HANI

Born 28 June 1942 in the Transkei area of Cofimvaba Died 10 April 1993

“What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive—when they have sacrificed what is precious, namely life itself”

Hani was a fierce opponent to the Apartheid government and held the position of leader of the South African Communist (ANC) Party as well as chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC.

Following his studies at the Fort Hare University, and joining Umkhonto we Sizwe, Hani was arrested and eventually went into exile in Lesotho in 1963. He received military training in the Soviet Union and served in campaigns in the bush war in Zimbabwe. Here he earned a reputation as a brave soldier of the first black army to take the field against Apartheid. While in Lesotho, Hani organised guerrilla operations for Umkhonto we Sizwe and by 1982, his reputation made him the target of assassination attempts.

On the unbanning of the ANC in 1970, Hani returned to South Africa and took over from Joe Slovo as the head of the South African Communist Party.

Hani was assassinated by a Polish far-right immigrant in 1993 outside of his home in Boksburg, Gauteng. The assassination raised tension in the country, with many fearing that the country would erupt into violence. Mandela addressed the nation to allay any fears, and while riots did take place, it was eventually decided that democratic elections would take place in April 1994.

ROBERT MANGALISO SOBUKWE

Born 5 December 1924 in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape Died 27 February 1978 “We are fighting for the noblest cause on...

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ROBERT MANGALISO SOBUKWE

Born 5 December 1924 in Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape Died 27 February 1978

“We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind…there is only one race, the human race. Multi racialism is racism multiplied.”

Sobukwe became known to his supporters as “Prof” because of his educational achievements following his studies at Fort Hare University and lecturing African Studies at Wits. As founder of the Pan Africanist Congress, Sobukwe also joined the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and held the secretary position of the organisation’s branch in Standerton.

As a strong believer in non-racialism, Sobukwe spoke out against the ANC while he held the position of editor at The Africanist newspaper, saying that the ANC was allowing itself to be dominated by “liberal-left-multi-racialists”.

In 1960, Sobukwe was convicted of incitement after marching against the Pass Law which required black people to carry a pass on them at all times. He was imprisoned at Robben Island and released in 1969 under house arrest, following which he studied law and started his own practice in 1975. He was still under house arrest when he passed away in 1977 due to lung cancer.

GOVAN MBEKI

Born 9 July 1910 Died 30 August 2001 Govan Mbeki, father of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, studied at...

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GOVAN MBEKI

Born 9 July 1910

Died 30 August 2001

Govan Mbeki, father of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, studied at the Fort Hare University where he met other African struggle leaders.

Mbeki played a vital role in ensuring that the New Age – the only South African newspaper serving the liberation movement between 1954 and 1962 – featured information reflecting the conditions of the black people, their demands as well as aspirations. The paper was banned in 1962, and following the development of a new one, the then Minister of Justice proceeded to ban the editors and writers.

Mbeki was both a leader of the ANC and the South African Communist Party and following the Rivonia Trial, he served 24 years on Robben Island together with Mandela, Sisulu and other struggle leaders. The ANC awarded Mbeki the highest honour through the Isitwalandwe Medal in 1980, and on his release, he served in the post-Apartheid Senate as well as the National Council of Provinces.

WALTER SISULU

Born 18 May 1912 in Engcobo, Eastern Cape Died 5 May 2003 “It is a law of life that problems arise when...

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WALTER SISULU

Born 18 May 1912 in Engcobo, Eastern Cape

Died 5 May 2003

“It is a law of life that problems arise when conditions are there for their solution.”

Walter Sisulu has both a Xhosa and western background, having been born to a Xhosa mother and white father. After working in Johannesburg on a number of manual jobs, Sisulu joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1940 and went on to co-found the ANC Youth League along with Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

Later, Sisulu joined the South African Communist Party and in 1952, he was arrested for taking part in planning the Defiance Campaign. Following his suspended sentence, Sisulu travelled through Europe, the USSR, Israel and China as an ANC representative. After going underground in 1963, Sisulu was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, serving the majority of his sentence on Robin Island along with other ANC figures.

Released in October 1989, Sisulu was elected as ANC deputy president at the ANC’s first national conference after its unbanning in 1988. Sisulu held this position till after the 1994 elections.

In 1992, Sisulu was granted the highest order by the ANC for his contribution to the liberation struggle through the Isitwalandwe Seaparankoe award. Both the Walter Sisulu University and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden are named after him.

NELSON MANDELA

Born 18 July 1918 in the village Quna, Eastern Cape “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of...

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NELSON MANDELA

Born 18 July 1918 in the village Quna, Eastern Cape

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela

– Long Walk to Freedom (1995)

In a country ruled by racial oppression for a number of years, Nelson Mandela became a world icon for peace when he became the first black president of South African in 1994. Held with deep respect throughout South Africa and the world, Mandela is fondly known as the ‘Father of the Nation’ and received numerous awards for his stance against the Apartheid regime and its abuses.

Mandela stayed in office from 1994 to 1999 during which time his government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty, inequality and fostering racial reconciliation.

As an African Nationalist, Mandela held other political positions including President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997, and the Secretary General position of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999. During his term as President of South Africa, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate abuse during the Apartheid years.

Mandela is Xhosa born and attended the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape as well as the University of Witwatersrand in Gauteng where he studied law and later became involved in anti-colonial politics, resulting in his joining the African National Congress. As a founding member of the ANC Youth League, Mandela rose to prominence in 1952 in the Defiance Campaign and oversaw the 1955 Congress of the People. Mandela later served 27 years in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the government and spent most of his sentence in the now famous Robin Island, off the coast of Cape Town. Lobbying through an international campaign led to his release in 1990.

Mandela has received over 250 awards including a Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the Soviet Order of Lenin.

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