Mandela House Museum, Soweto – Johannesburg

by Kojo Pocu
Mandela House Museum

If you want to learn more about the world’s most well-known former prisoner, stop at Nelson Mandela’s modest home in Orlando West, Soweto, now known as the Mandela House Museum. Many simply refer to Mandela House as being located at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West in Soweto. Nelson Mandela resided there from 1946 to 1962. The home is a modest structure with four connecting rooms that now house a collection of family heirlooms, artwork, and photos. Even a pair of Mandela’s old boots are on exhibit, providing insight into the man the nation affectionately referred to as Tata (father). For the time being, the house serves as a museum.

In the walls of the red-brick “matchbox” house, which was constructed in 1945, there are still bullet holes and scorch marks from petrol bombs that were thrown at it while Mandela was imprisoned. Even though he had now constructed a new house a bit further away, he decided to come back because this was “the house of his memories.”

Another notable mansion is located just up the street from this museum. Vilakazi Street also serves as home to Desmond Tutu. The Hector Pieterson Memorial is nearby; it was here that the 1976 student rebellion started. The exact location where Pieterson fell is far closer to the Mandela residence.

After divorcing Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela gave the house to the Soweto Heritage Trust. She, however, steadfastly resisted giving it up. In its place, she opened a restaurant and pub across the street and transformed it into the Mandela House Museum. The Soweto Heritage Trust once more has control of the home after it was designated a national historic site in 1999. Since then, it has undergone renovations and upgrades and now boasts a visitors’ centre and a number of exhibitions.

Mandela House Museum

History Of Mandela House Museum

The museum is a four-roomed house that houses the Mandela family’s mementoes, paintings, and pictures. It also has a collection of honorary doctorates that various universities and organizations from across the world have awarded Nelson Mandela. A row of his old boots and a boxing belt given to the former president by Sugar Ray Leonard are also there.

Mandela lived in the matchbox residence at 8115 Ngakane Street for the first time. In 1946, he and his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase relocated there. She relocated after their divorce in 1957. She moved in with him at the Soweto house after Winnie Madikizela and Mandela were married in 1958. Mandela rarely stayed there, though, during the years that followed, when his life as a liberation fighter was all-consuming. He lived as the “Black Pimpernel,” running from capture until his 1962 arrest and imprisonment.

While Mandela was incarcerated, Madikizela-Mandela and her two daughters, Zeni and Zinzi, continued to reside in the modest home. During this time, the house was repeatedly petrol-bombed and set on fire. When he was freed, Mandela declined to move into the more luxurious house that Madikizela-Mandela had constructed while he was behind bars (also in Orlando West). The home of his recollections was all he wished to do, go back. He was only there for 11 days after being freed though, as he was transferred from one place to another until settling into his Houghton home.

Mandela and Madikizela-Mandela divorced in 1996 after their 1992 separation. Madikizela-Mandela refused to give up the house, even though her ex-husband gave it to the Soweto Heritage Trust. She changed it into the Mandela Family Museum in its place, and across the street, she built a pub and restaurant. the museum’s opening ceremony, where bottles of “A lot of history was made here,” Madikizela-Mandela declared in reference to the sale of “Mandela garden soil.” The youth leadership gathered here to transform the face of South Africa and this is where the 1976 student rebellion started.”

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