On 5 August 1962, police waved down a car on a lonely country road in KwaZulu-Natal. At the wheel was Nelson Mandela, posing as a chauffeur, and his arrest was the catalyst for a series of trials, culminating in the Rivonia Treason Trial that would ultimately see him spend 27 years in prison. Today this site is marked by an impressive sculpture in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

Former president Nelson Mandela had been on the run from the South African apartheid government for 17 months, a feat that had earned him the name 'Black Pimpernel'.

But his luck was about to run out when police waved down an Austin Westminster on 5 August 1962 at a roadblock on the R103 near Howick in KwaZulu-Natal.

At the wheel was Mandela, posing as a chauffeur, with fellow comrade Cecil Williams in the passenger seat.

The two men had just visited Chief Albert Luthuli, then leader of the African National Congress, to report back on Mandela’s trip abroad, where he had received military training in Algeria and had been to London to drum up support for the liberation movement.

Although Mandela insisted he was simply a chauffeur named David Motsamayi, the police were on to him (some say with the help of the CIA), and he was promptly arrested. His capture marked the start of Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment and the journey that he would later call 'the long walk to freedom'.

Until relatively recently, the Mandela Capture Site was just a small bricked area with a plaque. But on the 50th anniversary of this event in 2012, an impressive steel sculpture and visitor centre was unveiled to give full recognition to the significance of this spot.

Designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli (of Apartheid Museum fame) with the help of architect Jeremy Rose, the sculpture creates something of an optical illusion. From a distance, the 50 steel poles of varying heights simply look like a random collection of poles, but as you approach to within 35m of the sculpture, they merge to form an image of Mandela’s face.

Mandela’s arrest that day was not only the start of a long, dark period in the liberation struggle, but also set Mandela on the path to becoming the world’s most famous political prisoner, and ultimately the first president of a democratic South Africa.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Apartheid Museum
Tel: +27 (0)11 309 4728 (Noelene Patel)
(The Mandela Capture Site is currently managed by the Apartheid Museum)

How to get here

About 5km north-west of Howick on the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg, take the Tweedie turn-off to Lions River. Turn right on to the R103. The site is a five-minute drive from the highway and well signposted. It’s open from 9am to 4pm every day of the week.

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