Umtata – A Haven of Culture and History
The Eastern Cape town of Umtata (now officially known as Mthatha) was originally founded along the banks of the Mthatha River as a military post for colonial forces in 1882 and soon developed into a town, becoming the administrative center of the region. Areas close to Umtata were the birthplace of a number of notable black South Africans, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, who went on to become leaders following the abolishment of apartheid, establishing Umtata as place of importance in the history of South Africa.
In keeping with its role in South African history, Umtata is a focal point of the Nelson Mandela Route which was established in response to the interest that people, both local and international, have shown in the life of this iconic South African statesman. The Nelson Mandela Museum is divided into three parts in three different locations – Mveso being Mandela’s birthplace, Qunu being the town where he was raised and Umtata being the seat of the Xhosa traditional authorities. A number of buildings in Umtata date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a superb example being the Town Hall, constructed from sandstone and completed in 1908.
The Umtata dam is a popular leisure area with peaceful picnic spots under shady trees and a variety of water sports on offer. There are also a number of nature reserves in the surrounding area that are home to an abundance of wildlife and birdlife. There are some picturesque hiking trails to enjoy, with the most popular being the Madiba hiking trail. Visitors to the Eastern Cape can gain much insight into various aspects of the history of South Africa, as well as the fascinating culture of the Xhosa people, by spending some time exploring Umtata.