By WANGECI KANYEKI
Soweto. This section of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa is perhaps better knows for its history, particularly the Soweto uprising of 1976. But it also played the role of home to some of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid lights, among them Nelson Mandela.
Situated here is a humble dwelling, once the home of one of the world’s most famous prisoner who eventually became South Africa’s president.
Built in 1945, the Mandela House 8115 is a matchbox sized, single story brick house with a standard roof tin built at the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Street.
According to tour guides who educate tourists visiting the house, Nelson Mandela moved into the house in 1946 with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase and his first son. They divorced in 1956 and from 1958, he was joined in the house by his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie). Mandela lived in the house for 15 years.
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As his role in liberation struggle activities increased, he was forced underground in 1961, living a life on the run till his arrest and imprisonment in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.
The house was raided frequently while Mandela was away in prison and petrol bombed twice, one can still see the charred scorch marks caused by the fires as well as bullet holes from police raids.
Winnie had erected a wall in the middle of the living room to demarcate the kitchen and protect the children against bullets from police attacks.
When Mandela was released from Robben Island in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, he returned to The Mandela House 8115 for eleven days before moving in with his wife Winnie Mandela in Beverly Hills, Soweto.
A caption on the walls explains why he felt the need to come back to the Soweto house despite being advised otherwise: “That night, I returned with Winnie to No 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart that I had left prison. For me, No 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”
In 1997, Nelson Mandela donated the house to the Soweto Heritage Trust and it was turned into a museum to preserve the heritage and legacy of the Mandela Family. The National Monuments Council declared the property a national monument on March 16, 1999.
Though was renovated in 2008, and reopened in 2009, the building retains most of its historical, yet simplistic aspect of the family who lived there.
It comprises of four inter connected rooms. A narrow kitchen has an iron cast Caledon coal stove where meals were prepared and a metallic dustbin cover, which had been used as a shield against bullets, leans against the wall. In the main bedroom is a bed, which was used by one of Mandela’s daughters which is covered with a fluffy traditional blanket made from Jackal skin.
A second room has a wall unit with memorable arte acts such as a boxer’s belt, which was given to Mandela by Olympic and professional welter-weight boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard. A pair of Mandela’s military boots are also displayed.
A portrait painting of the former South African president stands out. This one was presented to Mandela by Leonard Kateete, a Ugandan artist, who resides in Kenya in 1990, when he first visited Kenya after his release. The portrait has a background of shackles and foot prints emanating from Robben Island, which represent his long walk to freedom.
The walls in the house tell their own stories through painting and captioned photographs of the Mandela family, as well as a collection of letters and honorary doctorates bestowed on the former South African president. Outside at the back yard is a special tree where all the Mandela children and great grandchildren have their umbilical cords buried.
When undergoing renovations a ticketing reception office was added to accommodate the tourists and well wishers who frequent the house, especially so now as the great legendary has been unwell.