Mandela House: 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto, South Africa

This past weekend we visited the very famous Vilakazi Street to have the whole “Soweto Experience” visiting Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and just having a truly South African History experience which many tourist seek for when visiting this beautiful country.

The first thing we were met with was a group of dancers from Botswana, in their traditional clothing, the danced for us, obviously for the hope of a R20 or R50 note as that is how they make their living.

Aparteid was a very hard time for this country but especially for the township Soweto as that is where the heart of the struggle was. As much as it trickled over to other townships and other parts of the country, the very heart of the student marches took place here.

Origin

The street was named after the late Zulu poet, novelist and linguist Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, who in 1935 became the first black African of the then Union of South Africa to teach at a “white” university and, in 1946, the first black South African to receive a doctorate in literature from the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 2016, Vilakazi was posthumously honoured with South Africa’s prestigious Order of Ikhamanga (Gold) – an award recognising the profound impact he had on South African literature.

“Soweto is a symbol of the New South Africa, caught between old squatter misery and new prosperity, squalor and an upbeat lifestyle, it’s a vibrant city which still openly bears the scars of the Apartheid past and yet shows what’s possible in the New South Africa”

Soweto obtained its name from the first two letters of South Western Township which was the original description ofthe area.

Vilakazi Street is best known for the fact that it has been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners – both the late former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu have lived there.

Mandela lived in Vilakazi Street with his first wife, Evelyn Mase, and later with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He briefly returned to the house for 11 days on his release from prison in 1990.

Inside Mandela’s House

Well we obviously went inside the house with a tour guide who explained as much as he knew. One disappointing thing was that we could not record the tour to watch later or post for your as it was against the rules, but we were able to take a pictures which you’ll see below.

HISTORY

‘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.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom, on his return to 8115 Orlando West after his release from prison in 1990. 

The Mandela House at 8115 Orlando West, on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto, was built in 1945, part of a Johannesburg City tender for new houses in Orlando. Nelson Mandela moved here in 1946 with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, They divorced in 1957, and from 1958 he was joined in the house by his second wife, Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela (Winnie). 

He was to spend little time here in the ensuing years, as his role in struggle activities became all-consuming and he was forced underground (1961), living a life on the run until his arrest and imprisonment in 1962. 

Nelson Mandela returned here for a brief 11 days after his release from Robben Island in 1990, before finally moving to his present house in Houghton. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, herself imprisoned several times, lived in the house with her daughters while Nelson Mandela was in jail, until her own exile to Brandfort in 1977, where she remained under house arrest until 1986. The family continued to occupy the house until 1996, when the Mandelas divorced. The house was subsequently turned into a public heritage site, with Nelson Mandela as the Founder Trustee. 

‘The house itself was identical to hundreds of others built on postage-stamp-size plots on dirt roads. It had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen, and a bucket toilet at the back. Although there were street lamps outside we used paraffin lamps as the homes were not yet electrified. The bedroom was so small that a double bed took up almost the entire floor space.’ 

Living room

‘It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.’

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Hector Pieterson Museum

Our experience at the Hector Pieterson Museum was a great one but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the museum giving us very little to show for us being there besides images taken outside of the museum.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, situated in Orlando West, Soweto, commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid and in particular the role played by the school children who took part in the Soweto protests of 1976, many of whom were shot by the apartheid police while protesting against the sub-standard of education in black schools in South Africa.

Click here for more history on the museum.

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