Sad news: Just hours after posting the item below, I learned that Nelson Mandela had died today. Following in his footsteps in South Africa would be an appropriate way to honor his life.
I don’t know who had the idea first, or whether it was simultaneous and coincidental, but two African safari outfitters have come out with similar trips tracing the “footprints” — or “footsteps,” depending on the tour company — of South African liberation hero Nelson Mandela.
Both are touting their trips as complementing the recent release of the film Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, and both are meant to highlight milestones and significant sites in Mandela’s life.
Baby boomers, having grown up with the long shadow of apartheid in South Africa casting a pall over racial justice and freedom around the world, can take their pick of which tour they might want to join — which can only be a good thing. Even if the two tours have similar names and itineraries, they promise memorable traveling to those who sign up. Both are award-winning companies.
The Great Safaris trip, “Madiba’s Journey” (“Madiba” being Mandela’s Xhosa clan name) is an 11-day trip through South Africa focusing on “key areas and attractions that played a critical role in the struggle for equal rights and the birth of the democratic, modern South Africa.” as the company puts it.
The trip will visit Soweto, the township near Johannesburg that served as a notorious black ghetto in apartheid days; Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, where Mandela once lived, featuring the Nelson Mandela House Museum; and the Apartheid Museum, among other sites.
The tour then continues to Cape Town, where Robben Island — where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years — is on the docket, along with other sites and a chance to visit spectacular Table Mountain.
The final part of the itinerary is a four-day visit to South Africa’s Kruger National Park for a game safari. Land costs start at $3,495 per person.
Meanwhile, African Travel promotes its eight-day “In the Footsteps of Mandela” as “an ideal combination of history, exploration and discovery” of Mandela’s life and country.
Starting with three days in Cape Town, it also takes in Robben Island and other sites before moving on to two days in Johannesburg and then finishing up with three days at the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, staying at a private game lodge. This one is priced from $3,195 per person.
In an era when so many world leaders are, shall we say, of dubious merit, Mandela stands out as a truly courageous and decent person. He played the key role in South African reconciliation following the fall of apartheid, despite his own long-time incarceration for leading the opposition African National Congress.
It’s good to see two safari tour operators honor him in this way, and I hope some baby boomers will take advantage of this intriguing cultural travel opportunity in one of the most scenically beautiful countries in the world.
Update on December 6: South African Airways Vacations has just cancelled its similar 10-day tour of Mandela sites that it had recently announced to coincide with the film Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, explaining that it now seemed inappropriate.
What do you think, readers? Should Mandela-focused tours now be cancelled, or do they honor his memory? I think the latter, unless they are hastily put together attempts to cash in on this sad news; both of the tours described above were planned well in advance of his death. I’d be interested in hearing other opinions.