uMngeni Footprint Route

Download GPS Coordinates (KML file) (what is this?)

The uMngeni Footprint KwaZulu-Natal Route was named as such because it is located in the uMngeni Municipality area of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Midlands. The route region is known as the Gateway to the Midlands (the word uMngenena means 'the gateway' in Zulu) as it comprises the southern portion of the Midlands area. The footprint part of the name links the route to the strong message of the Open Africa footprint icon. This icon symbolises Africans blazing a trail of footprints through Africa and working together to achieve development. The area is also renowned  for featuring a portion of the life trail of Nelson Mandela, one African whose footprints are well known across the continent and the world.

Mandela Memorial Site:

On a road outside Howick is a small, insignificant-looking monument. It is here that Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962. Mandela had left South Africa illegally earlier in 1962. He toured African countries and addressed European audiences with the aim of raising support for the new liberation army as well as explaining the decision to take up arms to the external wing of the ANC.

On his return home Mandela travelled to Groutville to report to Chief Luthuli. He used a cover that had proven useful before, posing as a chauffeur for Cecil Williams (a white theatre director and Congress of Democrats member). On the way back from Natal, three cars full of policemen waylaid them near the town of Howick. Mandela was arrested, still wearing his white chauffeur’s dust coat.

During his trial Mandela electrified the court by wearing a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin Kaross (a blanket made of animal skins sewn together), saying that he was symbolising the fact that he was a black man walking into a white man’s court. Mandela was later found guilty of the charges of inciting people to strike and leaving the country without a passport. He was sentenced to five years – the heaviest sentence yet imposed for a political offence.

Six months later scores of policemen swooped on Lilliesleaf Farm, which had been the underground headquarters of the ANC. They arrested most of the ANC’s key leaders and several minor figures who happened to be there at the time. All the prisoners were put on trial, along with Mandela, who was already in prison, for plotting violent revolution against the state. The trial provoked world-wide demonstrations and elicited intense international pressure.

Mandela prepared his own final statement before sentencing. In conclusion he proclaimed that he cherished the ideal of a free and democratic society: “It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” he said.

Sentence was passed on June 14, 1964. Instead of the death penalty, for which Mandela and the other accused had prepared themselves, they were sentenced to life imprisonment.  It is the sentiment of many that the protests from around the world saved Mandela and his fellow accused from the death sentence.

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site:                    


On 5 August 1962, an otherwise ordinary piece of road along the R103, roughly 3km outside Howick in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, suddenly took on profound consequence. Armed apartheid police flagged down a car in which Nelson Mandela was pretending to be the chauffeur.

Having succeeded in evading capture by apartheid operatives for 17 months, Mandela had just paid a clandestine visit to African National Congress (ANC) president Chief Albert Luthuli's Groutville home to report back on his African odyssey, and to request support in calling for an armed struggle.

It was in this dramatic way, at this unassuming spot, that Nelson Mandela was finally captured, and proceeded to disappear from public view for the next 27 years.

Powerful new sculpture:

Marking the 50-year anniversary of what began Nelson Mandela's "long walk to freedom" - and the piece of land that, quite randomly, irrevocably altered the history of South Africa - is a quietly powerful new sculpture, set into the environment of this silently potent space.

The sculpture, the centrepiece of a new memorial site - the Nelson Mandela Capture Site - was unveiled by South African President Jacob Zuma during the site's official inauguration on Saturday.

The site was made possible by the Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs working together with the uMngeni Municipality, the Apartheid Museum and the KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Council in association with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

The extraordinary sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli comprises 50 steel column constructions - each between 6.5m and 9.5m tall - set into the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands landscape.

The approach to the site, designed by architect Jeremy Rose of Mashabane Rose Associates, leads one down a path towards the sculpture where, at a distance of 35 metres, a portrait of Nelson Mandela, looking west, comes into focus as the 50 linear vertical units line up to create the illusion of a flat image.

At once monumental and transient:

The effect of Cianfanelli's image is at once monumental and transient.

Cianfanelli says of the deliberate structural paradox: "The 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole; of solidarity."

"It points to an irony, as the political act of Mandela's incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy."

The sculpture both affects and is affected by the surrounding landscape, visually shifting throughout the day as light and atmosphere behind and around it change.

An additional five smaller columns create an axis from the main sculpture to the monument site across the road.

Museum, multipurpose theatre in the planning:

Christopher Till, director of the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and a key figure behind the development and realisation of the Capture Site, said the sculpture stood out as "an example of how the installation of art into a site of history and heritage can be a catalytic and powerful force."

The uMngeni municipality, with the assistance of the Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, has acquired the property adjacent to the capture site on the R103, and has commissioned a plan for the establishment of a museum, multipurpose theatre and amphitheatre on the site.

Speaking at Saturday's unveiling, Zuma said: "We must encourage generations to visit this place to see Madiba's last point as a free man. Those who do so will be inspired by the sacrifice, commitment and dedication to this country and its people."

Zuma also noted that Howick was famous for its beautifual scenery and its proximity to the magnificent Howick Falls, a major attraction for tourists visiting or passing through the area.


The route covers the two main towns of Howick and Mpophomeni – approximately twenty minutes drive north of Pietermaritzburg on the N3 national road. This is the area known as the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands – the centre of the South African province of KZN (KwaZulu-Natal).

The route focuses on two very unique towns in the uMngeni area. The two towns have such varying attractions between them that a stay of at least a few days is essential.

Attractions include:

  • Spectacular waterfalls;
  • Museums;
  • Community groups and projects;
  • Gardens;
  • Crafters;
  • Taxidermy; and
  • A large dam and accommodation facilities.


Fourteen kilometres from Howick lies the approximately 32 000-strong community of Mpophomeni (meaning “waterfall” and named after the Howick Falls). This is no ordinary community. From past experiences and by cleverly looking into the future, this community has realised that the only way to succeed is to forge a path to success yourself, with a little help from your friends.

The community originally lived at Howick and provided the workforce for the BTR (later Dunlop) plant. When they were forcibly relocated to an area 14km away, an ugly time of industrial strikes and discontent followed. This ultimately led to the dismissal of the entire BTR workforce. The largely ANC- (African National Congress) affiliated workers were replaced by IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) supporters and a bloody political war erupted.

The carnage was terrible, but one horrifying incident stands out. The South African Army was called in to disperse a toyi-toying (the toyi-toyi is a protest dance) crowd and, in the process, a five year old girl was run over and killed. The community was devastated and the tragedy served to bring it together and become the catalyst for negotiation and ultimately peace. A memorial wall has been erected in the town to commemorate the young girl and others who died during the period of political turmoil.

From the discussions, the Zenzeleni (meaning “do it yourself”) project was formed with the aim to fund, encourage and initiate community schemes. The ultimate goal was job creation for the largely unemployed community. The community chose representatives to be trained. They then returned to share their knowledge and help develop the scheme. Numerous valuable projects have been started in the community including the building of the Zenzeleni Community Centre and the initiation of the Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience office.

Today Mpophomeni boasts a number of:

  • B&B's;
  • sangomas (traditional healers) who can be consulted by tourists;
  • storytellers;
  • taverns;
  • choirs; and
  • various community craft groups.

The standard, quality and variety of the projects available to the community as well as the experiences for tourists in Mpophomeni is constantly being evaluated and new ideas explored.

The Mpophomeni experience is that of a modern, not rural, township. In other words, tourists are not housed in traditional huts but in brick houses – many built by the South African Government’s housing scheme. There is a curious mix of the old and the new in Mpophomeni: from the modern houses in town to the chief’s rondavels (small circular buildings with cone-shaped rooves) on the hillside overlooking his community; from the single tarred road that winds through the township to the goats that graze on its verge; from the modern clothing and cooking to the traditional stories and cultural differences that tourists will learn while visiting. The vibe in the town is alive, exciting and diverse. The community is working together to show tourists what they can do and who they are. History has dictated that townships are unsafe for visitors. The Mpophomeni community is changing that perception and encouraging both local and international tourists to visit.


Howick is in the midst of the "land of waterfalls”. It is here that the Umgeni River and its tributaries tumble through gorges and over precipices on their journey to the Indian Ocean – some 95km to the east.

Howick was named after the Northumberland home of Earl Grey, the British Colonial Secretary at the time of the town’s establishment in 1850. In the late 1800's the town boasted several hotels, a small store, a church and the fantastic towering waterfall that thunders down its cliff almost to the centre of town. Today, the town has grown and access roads have been repositioned.

Attractions on offer in Howick include:

  • a wide range of sporting activities;
  • sport fishing and water sports on Midmar Dam;
  • equestrian pursuits;   
  • hiking;
  • game-viewing and birding;
  • easy access to the majestic Drakensberg Mountains;
  • a wide range of country-style accommodation;
  • restaurants; and
  • shopping centres.

Most important are the wonderful climate and the warmth of the locals. For those who enjoy stretching their legs in the country air, the Howick Tourism Information Office will supply maps and directions for the many walking trails in the area. Although a modern and bustling centre, Howick retains its original country character and hospitality. 

At the heart of the town lies the world-famous Howick Falls, which plunges almost 95m into the gorge below. The falls are known to the Zulu people as KwaNogqaza ('the place of the tall one'). The falls and the surrounding 32ha were proclaimed a National Monument in 1951.

The area around the falls was first settled permanently by James Archbell, a Wesleyan missionary. At the time, the main ford across the river was situated at Alleman’s Drift – about 1km upstream from the falls. By 1850, the route across the river and into the hinterland had been altered to be more convenient, although more dangerous, to just above the falls. This spot became increasingly important as the road linking the port of Durban to the hinterland. 

Today a modern bridge stands where once many travellers, oxen and horses were swept over the falls. There are several other waterfalls in the vicinity of Howick, including Cascade Falls (25m), Shelter Falls (37m) and the stunning Karkloof Falls (105m). The best place to observe the Howick Falls is from the viewing platform. The fit and energetic can brave the steep climb down into the gorge - the scene is impressive, but then so is the return climb!

Also of historical significance in the town is the Anglo-Boer War cemetery where both British and Boer graves are located and a memorial has been erected. The Laager Wall opposite the Howick Museum was built after the battle of Isandlwana in 1879 against a possible Zulu attack. A portion of the wall remains today as a monument.

Local events:

Comrades Marathon:

When: 1 June 2014

Where: Between Pietermaritzburg and Durban

Tel: +27 33 897 8650; 



The Comrades Marathon, world’s greatest ultra-marathon, 89km long, is a South African institution, internationally recognised for the body-sapping challenge it poses and the camaraderie it fosters among its thousands of participants. Run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, the race alternates annually between the up run from Durban and the down run from Pietermaritzburg.


Nearby routes

Amajuba Route

In the north-western corner of KwaZulu-Natal, this route has an ABC of core attractions: adventures, art, animals and ambles; berg, battlefields and birds; culture, crafts and charm.

Drakensberg Experience Route

The Drakensberg Experience is located in the Midlands of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. The route is centred on the Drakensberg World Heritage Site, which includes Giant’s Castle and the Central and Northern Drakensberg. The route extends from Hidcote in the south to Sterkfontein Dam in the north.

Elephant Coast Route

A large route stretching from St Lucia in the south to Kosi Bay in the north and inland to the N2 national highway, this route has a wealth of attractions, accommodation options and activities. It contains outstanding wildlife reserves covering a diversity of habitats.

N3 Gateway

The N3 Gateway, at present, spans from the Valley of a Thousand Hills in the south to Heidelberg in the north. It traverses four provinces namely KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Mpumalanga and Gauteng. Caledonspoort, Puthadijaba and Sani Pass are included, making it a cross border project into Lesotho.

Nguni Route

The Nguni Route incorporates an area of scenic landscapes combined with historical and cultural attractions. These are some of the poorest rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal, and tourism has been identified as a major job creator here.

Zululand Sea Kayaking Route

We have selected a number of sea kayaking routes which showcase those parts of our coastline most suited for paddling and exemplify the wide variety of experiences available to sea kayakers in this country.


hello, thanks for liinkng me up in your blog roll, but can you please put the entire title of my blog 'The Snoring Queen', it's kinda weird to read it as The Snoring, thanks a lot and sorry for being a bother. and thanks for inviting me to take part in the comment weekend love :)

Thossapol on 8th of October, 2012 at 14:38.

stunning place to visit.

John on 22nd of September, 2010 at 07:02.

If you've every travelled in this area, it's really stunning. The Midlands has some great touristy places to visit.

Richard on 9th of September, 2008 at 11:33.

Add a review

Have you been there? Let others know what you thought.

  • captcha