Hyderabad: Simple. Strong. Full of spirit. These words sum up Nelson Mandela’s old home in Soweto, or South West Township, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. I had the fortune of visiting the icon’s humble house in 2006 while in South Africa to cover India’s One-Day International cricket series.
The simple house looked definitely lower middle class, with four tiny interleading rooms with a narrow kitchen. The bullet holes on the walls and the scorch marks from petrol-bomb attacks on the facade spoke of the murderous motives of his oppressors, and the spirit of its owner.
Photographs of the man simply known as Madiba adorned the walls, along with the honorary doctorates bestowed on him by international institutions, assuring the visitor that his spirit still lived there. Mandela lived in the house till 1955. The Mandela House in Orlando West has been turned into a museum.
It was goose bumps time as I followed the tour guide into the dwelling of this doughty fighter. Entering his room, my instincts as a sports journalist were roused. Inside lay the World Boxing Championship belt donated by Sugar Ray Leonard to Mandela, who, I discovered, was a boxer in his younger days.
Next up was a disturbing walk through history at the Apartheid Museum. You are hit right at the entrance, marked separately for ‘Blacks’ and ‘Whites’.
Once inside, you battle with tears, courtesy the frightening facts of racial discrimination and blood on the streets, all showcased ironically in black and white photographs. Poignant scenes flash on the video screens, again in black and white, depicting the determined fight of Mandela.
Home is where the heart is, they say. It has been documented that when he was released from his Robben Island prison in 1990, Mandela refused to move to the more opulent home (also in Soweto) that his then wife Winnie had built during his detention.
He wanted only to return to the house of his memories. The legend wrote in his autobiography: “That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”
The X stays in my mind too. Privileged to have walked through the doors that Madiba once strode through....