SA's top heritage sites

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

As South Africa mark’s the national Heritage Day, many of its citizens do not understand the significance of the various heritage sites that are found in all corners of the country.

In South Africa, September is observed as Heritage month which celebrates the country’s culture, its diverse people and languages.

South Africa is rich in liberation or heritage sites which attract thousands of tourists every year.

Robben Island

Robben Island must be among South Africa’s most well-known heritage sites. It is located in Cape Town’s coast and was used as a prison by the apartheid government. Many of the country’s freedom fighters were imprisoned on the island including South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela who spent the majority of his 27 years imprisonment on the island.

Other famous prisoners include Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned on the island for 18 years and Robert Sobukwe who was housed on the island under solitary confinement. The prison was notorious for its harsh conditions and was in 1999 recognised as a wold heritage site.

Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication

Another one of South Africa’s liberation sites is the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Klispruit, Soweto.

The site is where over 3000 people gathered to adopt the Freedom Charter in June 1955. The Freedom Charter is the cornerstone of the Bill of Rights as well as the Constitution.

The site is also dedicated to anti-apartheid activist Walter Sisulu.

The square of dedication is where the Freedom Charter, an alternative vision to the policies of apartheid was drawn up. At the northern end of the square is the Freedom Charter Monument a local landmark where the tenets of the charter are inscribed.

In June 2005, the then President Thabo Mbeki lit a flame of freedom to mark the opening of the square which has been declared a national heritage site.

Today the square incorporates shops, a hotel and informal traders among other activities.

Constitution Hill

The Old Fort of Constitutional Hill was built way back in 1892 which functioned as a prison. In the late 1900s and the early 20th century the so-called natives section and isolation cells known as sections four and five where black male prisoners were held and a women’s prison and an awaiting trial building were added.

All of the buildings collectively known as the Fort, were notorious for the harsh treatment of prisoners. The prisoners ranged from common criminals to ordinary men and women who contravened colonial and apartheid laws.

In 1964 the old Fort was declared as a national monument even though it continued as a prison.

In the mid-1990s the entire site was injected with a new meaning when it was chosen as the site for the new Constitutional Court.

Constitution Hill which overlooks the city of Johannesburg, is more than just the site of South Africa's Constitutional Court - the highest court in the country on constitutional matters.

Today Constitution Hill site is home to the Women’s Gaol museum, Number Four museum and Old Fort museum.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

This Soweto site and museum pays homage to the 12 –year old Hector, a pupil who was fatally shot on 16 June 1976 in the student uprisings during the apartheid era. Hector and other students had been protesting against the use of Afrikaans in schools.

Pieterson became the face of the uprisings when a newspaper photograph of him being carried by a high school pupil was published around the world. 

The memorial—which is not far from where Pieterson was shot-- was erected on Khumalo street in the early 1990s. On 16 June 2002 the Hector Pieterson museum opened its doors to the public.

Steve Biko House

Along the Biko heritage trail is the Steve Biko House which is located in the Ginsberg township in the Eastern Cape.

The house belongs to the mother of the anti-apartheid activist who formed the Black Consciousness Movement.

The house was where Biko served his banning order from 1973 until his time of death in 1977.

The house was declared a national monument in 1997 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his death.

Lilieslief farm

Lilieslief is a farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg where senior ANC members planned to overthrow the then apartheid government. For many years the farm was used as a meeting place as well as a hide-out place not only for the ANC but the South African Communist Party.

The hideout however was discovered when police swooped in on ANC members in July 1963. The raid resulted in the Rivonia Treason Trials that took place between 1963 and 1964. Those arrested were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system.

The farm is widely regarded as the birthplace of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).


The rural village of Qunu is not only the place where South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela grew up but is also the place where he is buried following his death on 5 December 2013.

The village also comprises of the Nelson Mandela Museum which was built in his honour.

The museum comprises of three separate structures: the Bhunga Building in Mthatha, the open-air museum at Mvezo and Qunu








































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