This part of the South Africa remains steeped in the Xhosa traditions with many women still wearing ochre-coloured dresses with turbans-like headdresses, wire bracelets and white clay on their faces and bodies. Young boys still observe the coming-of-age ceremony called Khwetha and women carry jars of water on their heads. Domestic animals dawdle along the road sides.
Originally a military post for the colonial forces in 1882, the town itself was founded in 1883, along the banks of the Mthatha River.
Mthatha became the leading administrative centre of the area, having both an Anglican and Catholic cathedral. From 1976 to 1994, Mthatha served as the capital of the Transkei Bantustan, under the name of Umtata.
A branch of the University of Fort Hare was established in the town, and after the ‘independence’ of the Transkei in 1977 it became the University of Transkei, which has since been integrated into the Walter Sisulu University for Technology and Science. The campus was the base for the region’s first community radio station, UCRFM, which started in 1996 and has become a significant community broadcaster.
Lekker Links
Nelson Mandela National Museum Eastern Cape province
Nelson Mandela
Walter Sisulu
Buffalo City (municipality of Bhisho, East London and King William’s Town) Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth
Addo Elephant National Park
Camdeboo National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park
Tsitsikamma National Park
Many of South Africa’s black leaders — including Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela — come from this area, and the retired Mandela still lives in his home village of Qunu some miles south of Mthatha.
Mthatha is the home of one of the three Nelson Mandela Museums. Spread across three towns, Mthatha, Mvezo and Qunu, it collects, interprets and exhibits key aspects of the story, life and times of Nelson Mandela.
Mthatha still retains many of its earliest buildings, of the neoclassical style so popular in colonial times, including the Town Hall – a sandstone building completed in 1908.
The Bunga – a domed building that served as the seat of the Transkei Parliament – is now part of the Nelson Mandela Museum, containing a number of gifts given to him by other countries and nationalities whilst he was president.
The Mthatha dam, constructed about eight kilometre upstream of the town, has some lovely picnic spots and is a hive of water sports.

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