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Mandela House opens in Soweto


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela stepped through the front door of her tiny house at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Orlando West this week, and re-lived sometimes painful memories.

The restored Mandela House opened to the public on Thursday, 19 March. Madikizela-Mandela, her two daughters Zinzi and Zenani, and other family members were present.

Nelson Mandela had moved into the house in 1946 with his first wife, Evelyn Mase, and in 1958 brought his second wife, Winnie, to live there. He returned briefly to live in the house on his release from prison in 1990. He said in Long Walk to Freedom: "It was only then that I knew in my heart that I had left prison."

Madikizela-Mandela led struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, Gauteng Premier Paul Mashatile, provincial MEC for sports, arts, and culture Barbara Creecy, various diplomats and other officials through the house, recounting memories of living there, as she went along.

Afterwards she wrote in the visitors' book: "Today is historical to the family; the preservation of our legacy could not have been better retained for posterity. We thank each and every one who has contributed to this noble cause. We are proud of the achievements that have been made by the team [Soweto Heritage Trust and the project managers of Haley Sharpe Southern Africa]."

Curator Ishmael Mbhokodo, who accompanied her on the tour, which excluded the media, said he felt that she was so emotional but couldn't cry in such a public place. "She had an emotional appearance on her face."

This humble dwelling

Zinzi Mandela-Hlongwane read a short speech from Madiba, who wasn't present: "The heritage of this humble dwelling is, of course, one of struggle and sacrifice, but it is also one that demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. It is the heritage not only of one family, but that of all the people of Soweto and of our nation who refused to bow down to tyranny or succumb to bitterness.

"It is fitting that number 8115 Vilakazi Street, Soweto, should now become part of a community of institutions dedicated to ensuring that our country's history is preserved and made accessible to future generations. There is much we can learn from the past as we chart the future. This was the vision which informed our decision to place the property in the custody of the trust originally.

"Congratulations to all the dedicated fundraisers, funders, researchers, designers and curators who have made this possible. We wish you every success in this important endeavour."

Special house

The City was represented by the mayoral committee member for community development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza. Apologising that Executive Mayor Amos Masondo had to rush to a 2010 meeting in Pretoria, she said the house was special because "if these walls could talk, they would tell a story, a story of the brutality of the past regime. These walls would tell a story of how this house was raided, how this house was once petrol bombed, by the forces of darkness".

"This brutality did not break our spirit as a nation. Utata uMadiba symbolises our triumph as a people. We triumphed because of the sacrifices he made, but he also taught us that we should not adopt the triumphalist approach. He taught us reconciliation, and nation building. This house today embodies all that utata uMadiba stands for."

Speaking before the tour, Mashatile said: "We meet here today to witness the launch of a world-class tourism facility that, in many ways, is a fitting tribute to the icon of our liberation struggle and one of the founding fathers of our democracy, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his family."

The house stood as "a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit against all adversities".

The restoration of the house was undertaken by the trust, with donations from Standard Bank and Anglo American of R2,25-million each. The restoration cost R9-million.

"The house also stands as a monument, reminding us of our unhappy past but also and most importantly, reminding us of the power of reconciliation and nation building," added Mashatile.

Thousands of visitors

The Mandela House attracts thousands of visitors each year. It has been returned to its former humble, three-roomed lay-out, with concrete floors and the corrugated roof visible from inside. A wall of display cabinets are filled with documents and certificates.

A kitchen dresser rests against one wall, a painting of Madiba on another, while a large photograph of Madikizela-Mandela ironing is visible as one steps through the front door. An old cast-iron coal stove sits against the wall of what was the kitchen.

Video and audio recordings run continuously.

The site now boasts a visitors' centre, with ablution facilities and a small museum. The yard is enclosed in a brick walling on one side and round steel fence poles, making it possible to look in on it and its small garden. Paving and low face-brick walling demarcate the garden, which contains several trees of significance to the family.

"Preserving our country's heritage and teaching young people about our history are critical elements of nation building. With this restoration we aim to make a contribution to this effort," said Tina Eboka, a trust trustee and a corporate affairs executive at Standard Bank.

The members of the Mandela family provided the trust with invaluable insight and support in the restoration of the house and the displays inside the visitors' centre, she said. "We are also grateful to the family for its help in unpacking and understanding the uniqueness of the site and what life was like during those years."

The house is largely bare of furniture, giving it a deceptively spacious feel, despite its smallness. The trust's Marius van Blerck said all the original furniture had been stored, and the displays in the house would be changed and added to, over time.

About 100 people milled around the site while the dignitaries toured the house. Sixty-four-year-old Mlungisi Nhlapo came from Mofolo to attend the opening. Of the significance of the house, he said: "It brings those good-bad memories back. This is where we used to hibernate, it was a safe haven."

He attended school with Mandela's sons in Swaziland.

Sixty-five-year-old Selma Mkhabela and her husband have lived across the road from the Mandela House for 33 years. They dressed up for the opening, waiting patiently to get a glimpse of Madikizela-Mandela. "This is wonderful for me," Selma said, referring to the restoration.

She also reminisced about the party Mandela held when he returned in 1990, on his release from prison.

Vilakazi Street

The restoration of Mandela House is only a small part of a much bigger intervention in Orlando West. The Vilakazi Street precinct, when finished, will encompass a large triangle of rejuvenation, with four gateways, marking the entrance to the precinct, which has been described as an "outdoor living museum".

The area is also significant because it's where students met the apartheid police on 16 June 1976, and where the set of photographs of the 12-year-old dying Hector Pieterson was taken, an image that came to symbolise the repressive actions of the government. The nearby Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial commemorates the sacrifice that Hector and other students made on that day and the days that followed.

The project will standardise the present ad-hoc arrangement of paving, lighting, kerbs, signage and landscaping in Vilakazi Street. A number of trails around it will also be created.

Source: joburg.org.za

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