Mandela House reopens to visitors following major restoration

Mandela House, the former home of Nelson Mandela, located at 8115 in Orlando West, Soweto, has been officially opened after restoration. It has been developed into a world-class visitor attraction but retains the structure and authenticity of the original house.

The purpose of the site is to inform the public of Nelson Mandela’s story in the context of this home and of his life as a whole, and his commitment to human rights, democracy, reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance.

The R9-million redevelopment was officially opened with the cutting of a ribbon by Gauteng Premier Paul Mashatile, Johannesburg Executive Mayor Amos Masondo and Sim Tshabalala, Chief Executive, Standard Bank South Africa.

Standard Bank and Anglo American each contributed R2.25 million to the project, and two further corporate contributors are expected to be announced shortly.

Thousands of people have visited Mandela House each year since it was declared a national heritage site in 1999. The site is managed by the Soweto Heritage Trust, which comprises representatives from the City of Johannesburg, the Gauteng Department of Arts, Culture and Recreation and Standard Bank Group.

While popular with visitors to Soweto, the house did not meet heritage and tourism attraction standards in terms of management, conservation and visitor experience. To meet these needs, the redeveloped site has a number of improvements, including a new visitor centre and displays of historically relevant material in a variety of media.

Tina Eboka, a Soweto Heritage Trust trustee and Corporate Affairs Executive at Standard Bank Group, says restoration of the Mandela House and Visitors Centre is important because of its historical significance in the struggle for equality in South Africa as well as a reminder of the hardships that black people faced, being treated as ‘visitors’ in their own country and forced to live outside of town without access to basic services.

The house is also in close proximity to several other places that were important during the struggle against apartheid. These include the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the Regina Mundi church and Morris Isaacson High School where the 1976 student uprising began, making the Orlando West area a significant precinct that people should visit in order to understanding the history of the anti-apartheid movement.

“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,” says Eboka.

“As a gift to Soweto and South Africa, Mr Mandela made a choice to set up a trust to look after the house and invited trustees to serve. The Soweto Heritage Trust works hard to maintain the spirit of what he wanted. We believe 8115 Orlando West should be a place of pride for all South Africans,” she says.

Eboka says various members of the Mandela family provided the Soweto Heritage Trust with invaluable support and insight for development of the house and the displays in the visitors centre. “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.”

She says the only way for heritage projects such as this to survive is through support from community, corporate donors and government.

“Redeveloping the Mandela House and Visitors Centre is an example of the cooperation we need. This is a true public private partnership and the Standard Bank Group has been privileged to be able to contribute,” says Eboka.

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