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A matchbox house where Madiba dreamt of an equal South Africa

December 10, 2013 02:15 IST

More than 50 global leaders -- ranging from United States President Barack Obama to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Pranab Mukherjee -- will gather at the 95,000-seater FNB football stadium at Soweto on Tuesday to attend the memorial service of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. Not far from the high security event is a single-storey matchbox house with astronomical symbolism -- the Nelson Mandela National Museum, better known as the ‘Mandela House’, where Madiba and his family lived from 1946 to 1962.

Following the revolutionary leader’s demise on December 5, lakhs of mourners have congregated at the bullet-ridden house, an emblem of the struggle that Madiba went through to free his country from generations of discrimination.’s Manu Shankar had the privilege to visit the Mandela House in 2010. He recollects his experience.

As I was sitting in the comfortable lounge chair of the Mumbai airport, waiting for the announcement of the departure of the Jet Airways flight to Johannesburg, there was a sense of excitement.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup had got over, and with the winter waning off, it was perhaps the best time to visit the “rainbow nation”.

I had already made a list of the must-visit places in Johannesburg, which included the World Cup stadiums, the Wanderers, the Hector Pieterson museum and the Kingdom Wildlife Sanctuary. After checking in at the Sandton Sun hotel, I was told to add Soweto too to my list of must-see places.

Soweto is a laid back township in Johannesburg, famous for the Mandela House. Mandela and his family used to live there from 1946 till the 1960s. The former president donated it in 1997 to the Soweto Heritage Trust to be used as a tourist centre.

Mandela lived in the house with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase, and after his divorce with Mase, with his second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

However, it is said that Mandela himself did not spend much time at the 8115 Orlando West.

There is a something special in the air as you enter the house where the path for South African democracy was laid out.

Mandela’s speeches, the numerous artifacts displayed resonate the horrors that Winnie Mandela must have gone through when police stormed into the house to arrest her husband.

It is small house, with just four rooms, including a shower. Moving forward, one is drawn to a powerful quotation that’s etched on the wall:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Then there’s a bedroom that has one bed on both sides, and an old telephone.

In another room you are greeted by shelves full of photographs and wall hangings, and, of course, the couch, where Mandela used to sit and do his readings.

The Soweto Heritage trust has tried its best to incorporate and keep the refurbishing as well as the old structure intact.

The Mandela House, which was raided frequently, still bears the marks of the brutality that met the anti-apartheid campaign during that period.

A story goes that while Mandela was away, the police raided the house and left those bullet marks. His wife Winnie had erected a wall in the middle of the living room to demarcate the kitchen and protect the children during police attacks.

Image: A visitor looks at the artifacts inside the Mandela House in Soweto

Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Manu Shankar