Groot Drakenstein Prison Tours
Posted on the December 20th, 2017
Few visitors to South Africa realise that the last 14 months of Nelson Mandela’s 27 year long stay in prison were spent in Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, 45 minutes from Cape Town. Described by Mandela as a ‘gilded cage’, his quarters at Victor Verster Prison were a curious combination of luxury and confinement. The jail, renamed Groot Drakenstein Prison can now be visited on fascinating Franschhoek tours.
Situated deep in the lush Western Cape Winelands, Groot Drakenstein seems oddly placed. Behind its high fences, Mandela was given not a prison cell, but a comfortable villa with numerous bedrooms, a swimming pool, a personal chef and a view of the Drakenstein Mountains. In his autobiography, Mandela notes, “The only thing spoiling the idyllic picture was that the walls were topped with razor wire and there were guards at the entrance to the house. Even so, it was a lovely place and situation; a halfway house between prison and freedom.” The bungalow at Victor Verster would be Mandela’s last home before becoming a free man in February 1990.
A larger than life-size bronze statue is the first thing to greet visitors at the entrance to Groot Drakenstein Prison. The statue shows the iconic image of Mandela with a raised fist taking his first steps in his Walk to Freedom. Tours at Groot Drakenstein are heightened by tour guides who were former soldier’s in the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Siswe.
For anyone interested in the icon that was Madiba or South Africa’s struggle for freedom, Groot Drakenstein is an important part of the Mandela Trail. It is difficult not to be moved by seeing the space where Mandela spent his last days in captivity, awaiting his momentous release. Inscribed on the base of the statue it reads “The Sexwhale Family Foundation has commissioned this Long Walk To Freedom Statue in honour of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, together with all those who walked before, alongside and for him in the quest for a united non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa, as part of the international struggle for human solidarity against all forms of oppression and exploitation”.
The Groot Drakenstein Prison is just outside Paarl on the R301 road towards Franschhoek. Tickets can be bought from the Robben Island Ticket Bureau (00 27 21 419 1300) in the Cape Town waterfront, or at the Groot Drakenstein Prison.