The Mandela sculpture at the capture site in Howick, Pietermaritzburg. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency/ANA

Durban - Just outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal stands a steel monument celebrating Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

Designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli, the sculpture stands 10m tall and is made from 50 steel columns anchored in a concrete base. The image of Mandela comes to focus and is visible when one stands about 35m from the sculpture.

It was here that Mandela was arrested disguised as a driver under the nom de guerre David Motsamayi, just months after he founded the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

He had recently returned from a trip across Africa drumming up support for the new Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or “Spear of the Nation”.

He was arrested while travelling illegally to Johannesburg from Durban, where he had briefed ANC leader Albert Luthuli on his trip.

Mandela was jailed for five years for organising an illegal conference abroad and for leaving the country without permission, before being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, when authorities discovered he was the head of the ANC military wing.

He went on to spend 27 years in prison.

"That day, on August 5, 1962, Madiba’s journey as an underground revolutionary came to an abrupt end. Somehow, the police had known in advance that one of the nation’s most wanted men would be posing that day as a driver delivering his employer to Johannesburg. The police had prepared well. 

"Unwittingly, they had planned their regime’s own demise by opening a chapter in our history that opened the floodgates of freedom for those of us who had long lived under oppression," KwaZulu-Natal cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube has said.

"The Nelson Mandela Capture Site is, therefore, one of the most important sites in the liberation movement’s quest to free our nation."

Mandela would later write in his autobiography, the Long Walk to Freedom: “At Cedara, a small town just past Howick, I noticed a Ford V8 filled with white men shoot past us on the right.

“I instinctively turned round to look behind and I saw two more cars filled with white men. Suddenly, in front of us, the Ford was signalling to us to stop.

“I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my 17 months of ‘freedom’ were about to end.”

Clarissa Jones visited the site ahead of the Mandela centenary celebrations. Video: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency