A visit to Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto

Located at 8115 Vilakazi Orlando West is a  red-brick   house in which South Africa’s first democratic president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, lived from 1946 to 1962, and was described by many as a symbol of liberation.

The house is now a museum, for research and  preservation of  the heritage of the Mandela family.

Through the initiative of the South African Tourism(SAT), I accompanied the 2019 South African Specialist course graduates, made up of Nigerians and Ghanaians who were hosted and taken round tourist sites in the country to familiarise with their cultural heritage among others for eight days.

For a young Journalist like me, I was very eager to see the house and the area, that changed the face of South African history.

After  touring Limpopo and  KwaZulu-Natal Provinces, we touched down in Guateng Province on Friday, January 24, and moved straight to South West township (Soweto), created in the 1930s during the apartheid era to separate the whites from the blacks in Johannesburg, the second largest city in Africa and the financial capital of South Africa.

Upon our arrival at the Vilakazi street which is also noted to be the area the anti-apartheid and human rights activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu also lived,  as well as  Hector Pieterson Memorial,  the   spot where students were shot during the 1976 Soweto uprising. It was, therefore, not surprising that, the historic street, of Vilakazi which once housed two nobel prize winners, (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) was buzzing with  restaurants, cafes and bars selling typical township cuisine to welcome the numerous tourists.

A tour guide told us that Mandela moved into the house  with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1946. After their divorce in 1957, she moved out and when Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958, she joined him at the Soweto home. 

However, during the ensuing years when his life as a freedom fighter was under threat, Mandela seldom stayed there, as he was always on the run, until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela moved back to the house for a short eleven days before moving to larger and more secure premises in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton for security reasons.

The Mandela family’s four-room Soweto home is now a museum which houses various memorabilia, artworks, awards and honorary doctorates, conferred on Nelson Mandela and his family, as well as photographs of the family, dating back to the 1950s.

The house comprises two bedrooms,  a living room, bathroom, and a pantry, where they stored food.

Traces of bullet holes were visible on the walls as the apartheid police kept pestering Mandela and his family for his role in South Africa’s Walk to Freedom.

 It’s one of the major tourist attractions in South Africa due to its deep history and ties to Madiba’s pre-presidential life.

  The house, which was built in 1945 under the then council’s tender for new houses in Soweto,  was made a museum on March 19, 2009, through the effort of the  Soweto Heritage Trust.

The mission of the house is to provide an efficient and meaningful experience to all visitors, informing them of Mandela’s story in a manner that promote human rights, democracy, reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance amongst South Africans.

By Edem Mensah-Tsotorme, Soweto, South Africa

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