Walk in the footsteps of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

She may have physically departed, but the soul of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela remains inextricably intertwined in the hearts of South Africans and in the many places she lived, worked and was imprisoned.

Take time to visit some of the significant places in Gauteng where the “Mother of the Nation” once held a presence.

Mandela House Museum

The Mandela House Museum at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto, was home to the Mandela family from 1946 into the 1990s. Following Nelson Mandela’s second marriage, to Madikizela-Mandela in 1958, the couple took up residence in the home, where Winnie raised their two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, prior to her banishment to Brandfort in 1977 while Mandela was incarcerated.

Today the four-roomed home has been converted into a museum that houses memorabilia dating back to the 1950s. Apart from honorary doctorates conferred on Mandela and his family, there are works of art, photographs, mementos and various awards.

It remains one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions.

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The interior of the Mandela House Museum. (Image: jeremy Seto)

Vilakazi Street precinct

Soweto's Vilakazi Street, named in honour of distinguished writer and educator Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, is the only street in the world that can claim to have had two Nobel Peace Laureates as residents: South Africa’s first democratically elected president, the late Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Madikizela-Mandela lived there with her former husband from 1958. Not far from it, on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi streets, is the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum that honours the death of student Hector Pieterson at the onset of the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

Today Vilakazi Street has taken on a more cosmopolitan mantle, where local and international visitors mingle at local restaurants such as Sakhumzi, Nambitha and Vuyo's. Interactive public artworks and traditional curio stalls provide an added attraction.

The vibrancy of Vilakazi Street. (Image: Richard Matthews)

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Visit the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, where Mandela worked from 1999 until the conclusion of his public service in 2004. Thousands of Mandela-related artefacts may be viewed here, including many that feature Madikizela-Mandela.

The Centre is home to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Founded by Nelson Mandela in 1999, the Nelson Mandela Foundation is a non-profit organisation and custodian of Mandela's life and times. Focused on dialogue, advocacy, memory and legacy work, the Foundation is mandated to promote Mandela's lifelong vision of freedom and equality for all.

The Foundation, which is located at 107 Central Street, Houghton, focuses on promoting dialogue that addresses pressing social issues to find sustainable solutions. The Foundation also works to ensure that the world has access to an integrated, dynamic and trusted resource on Nelson Mandela.

The Women's Jail at Constitution Hill

In 1910 a women’s jail was built in close proximity to the Old Fort and Number Four jails, where black prisoners were held. The women's prison housed both black and white common-law and political prisoners – in separate facilities.

In 1958, a large contingent of women was arrested for protesting against the government's pass laws, while the state of emergency in 1960 saw another influx of female prisoners, many arrested with their children, including babies.

Conditions at the prison were degrading and included communal outdoor showers with cold water, even in winter.

Madikizela-Mandela and fellow anti-apartheid activists Barbara Hogan, Fatima Meer and Albertina Sisulu were incarcerated at the Women’s Jail during their political careers.

Today Constitution Hill, situated at 11 Kotze Road, Johannesburg, is a living museum that chronicles South Africa's turbulent journey to democracy. The former prison and military fort is also home to the country's Constitutional Court. Constitution Hill also acts as a gathering place for public events.

University of the Witwatersrand

Madikizela-Mandela was an alumnus of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in international relations. The flag above the Wits Great Hall was flown at half-mast in her honour on Tuesday 3 April 2018, the day after her death.

Wits is internationally recognised for its excellent research, high academic standards and commitment to social justice. Wits campuses are scattered over 400 acres in Parktown and Braamfontein, where visitors are encouraged to sightsee, visit one of the university museums and explore educational opportunities.

The main Wits campus can be found at 1 Jan Smuts Avenue, Braamfontein.

The Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum at the Gold Reef City campus in Ormonde offers visitors a rare window on life in South Africa under apartheid rule. Captivating photographic evidence, video footage, media coverage and personal accounts combine to create a picture of a pre-democratic country in conflict.

The museum features permanent and temporary exhibits created by designers, historians, curators and film-makers. Many of the permanent exhibitions depict race segregation and the havoc wreaked on families, while an exhibit titled Total Onslaught showcases the country at the height of civic and student protests during the 1980s and into the 1990s.

A tour of the Apartheid Museum will provide visitors with a glimpse into the societal issues and injustices that Madikizela-Mandela spent most of her life vehemently opposing.

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The Apartheid Museum records South Africa's history. (Image: Nagarjun)

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto is one of the world's largest hospitals, occupying around 0.70 km2. It houses about 3 200 beds and is staffed by 6 760 individuals.

It was here that Madikizela-Mandela made history when she was appointed the first qualified black medical social worker at the hospital, after turning down a scholarship to the United States.

Today it not only provides for Soweto, but also serves as a referral hospital for South Africa and many surrounding African states.

“Bara” contributes greatly to research conducted primarily in Soweto. By recording and documenting fluctuations in disease and pathology, Baragwanath acts as an indicator for those who face similar situations elsewhere on the globe.

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Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. (Image: sea turtle)


Madikizela-Mandela’s interest in politics was spurred by her time served at Baragwanath Hospital. While working as a medical social worker she was responsible for conducting research into infant mortality rates in Alexandra, where she was an esteemed community worker.

Alexandra, or “Alex” as it's more commonly known, was established in 1912 north-east of Johannesburg. Under the umbrella of the Alexandra Renewal Project, shanties are being replaced with houses; streets, lighting and other infrastructure is improving; extensive greening and clean-up projects are under way; and Alex is shedding its Cinderella image.

Tourists looking for a genuine taste of the township, which has been the home and nursery of musicians, artists and politicians, are encouraged to try a township tour by bicycle.

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Township tour by bicycle in Alex. (Image: Jeff Maluadzi)