Soweto’s appeal as a tourist destination is all about its history. Nowhere is that sense of history more palpable than at the Mandela House Museum at 8115 Vilakazi Street.
Nelson Mandela moved to the Vilakazi Street house, a small, three-room brick house built in 1945, with his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1946. The future president continued to live at 8115 after his divorce and later with his second wife Winnie Madikizela, until Mandela was imprisoned in 1962. The Mandela family occupied the house in some capacity until the 1990s, when it was given over to the care of the Soweto Heritage Trust and eventually became a museum.
The Mandela House underwent a major renovation in 2008 but still maintains the authentic feel of a 1940s-era Soweto home. Much of the Mandela’s original furniture remains and the walls are decorated with colourful photos, newspaper clippings, and awards relating to the Mandela family. The museum devotes special attention to Winnie Mandela, who lived in the house with her children for many years under incredibly difficult circumstances — largely without her husband.
Admission to Mandela House is affordable at R40 for African Union adults and R60 for other international visitors (prices are further reduced for students, children, and pensioners). Visitors are invited to participate in a free guided tour but can also browse the museum on their own. The entire museum is easy to absorb in about 45 minutes.
The Mandela House is especially fun to visit on weekdays, when groups of wide-eyed South African primary school students file quietly through the museum listening to their tour guides. These students, born long after the end of apartheid to parents who lived through the horrors of that era, represent a link between the country’s past, present, and future. Watching them take in the history of this sacred place provides another layer to the Mandela House experience.
Mandela House is at 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto. Call 011-936-7754.