In the 1950s, at the height of apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo operated the first black law firm in the nation out of a small three-story structure known as Chancellor House. Helping persons accused of crimes against the state and violating the repressive laws of the day in South Africa was a significant focus of their wholesome practice. In a cruel twist of fate, some of them were the crimes for which the two attorneys would ultimately be found guilty (they were both accused of high treason, and arrested late in 1956).
Mandela was cleared of treason charges but was forced to leave Chancellor House in 1960 due to his political activities (Tambo and his family had already fled the country in 1958 due to concerns that the ANC would be outlawed). Mandela resumed practising law from a nearby apartment.
Today, Chancellor House is located near the courts, at the intersection of Fox and Gerard Sekoto streets. The homeless were its only tenants up until 2010 when it was abandoned and left to rot. They had no qualms about lighting fires within the structure to stay warm, utterly destroying the original interior design.
The Johannesburg Development Agency made sure to hire an architect with experience in heritage projects when renovating Chancellor House. He restored the building’s exterior using antique pictures as a guide, including period accents like the wooden window frames and the sign that bears the building’s name.
The building’s ground floor now houses a museum dedicated to the independence struggle. The South African Associated Newspapers Building’s rooftop is where boxer Mandela and Jerry Moloi sparred in one of the exhibits. This is the same picture that served as the inspiration for Cianfanelli’s Shadow Boxing sculpture, which is located directly across from Chancellor House.
Many of the exhibits are visible via the museum’s windows, allowing passersby to peruse the materials and learn more about Tambo and Mandela. Additionally, the vicinity of Chancellor House has just had a comprehensive makeover and is now tidy and secure.