Eastern Cape DestinationsUmtata, Wild Coast
Umtata is Madiba country. Renowned as the world’s most loved ex-convict, (Nelson Mandela) this former statesman was born in the nearby town of Mvezo, spent his childhood in Qunu and today the main buildings of the Nelson Mandela Museum are in Umtata.
On the banks of the Mtata River - named after the Sneezewood (umtati) trees, famous for their wood and medicinal properties - Umtata was founded in 1879 and was originally the capital of the Transkei, homeland of the Xhosa during the Apartheid era. Transkei now forms part of the Eastern Cape and Umtata is still the centre of the region.
This part of the country remains seeped in the old traditions and women still wear ochre-coloured dresses with turbans, wire bracelets and white clay on their faces and bodies. Young boys still observe the coming-of-age ceremony called Khwetha and women carry jars of water on their heads. Domestic animals dawdle along the road sides.
Umtata is in the heart of the Nelson Mandela Route, established to give structure to the area for visitors who want to explore his history. The route starts in King Williams Town, where one can visit the grave of Steve Biko - leader of the Black Consciousness movement. The route then moves through Bisho along the N2 to Umtata and the Nelson Mandela Museum, opened 10 years to the day after he was released from prison. The museum is spread over three locations - Umtata, Qunu and Mveso.
Umtata still retains many of its earliest buildings, of the neoclassical style so popular in colonial times, including the Town Hall - a sandstone building completed in 1908. Other activities in the area include the Madiba hiking trail and a visit to the Bunga - a domed building that served as the seat of the Transkei Parliament and is now part of the Nelson Mandela Museum, containing a number of gifts given to him by other countries and nationalities whilst he was president.
The Umtata dam has some lovely picnic spots and is a hive of water sports. There are also a number of nature reserves in the area.