Museum opens at Mandela’s Soweto home

Nelson Mandela’s humble former home reopened to the public Thursday after a painstaking restoration to celebrate the life and preserve the legacy of South Africa’s first black president.

No. 8115 Vilakazi Street in the Orlando West neighborhood of Soweto was Mandela’s first home in Johannesburg. The anti-apartheid hero returned there after being freed from 27 years in jail.

There are bullet holes in some walls from shots fired by apartheid security forces, and the facade is partly scorched from attacks with Molotov cocktails.

“It is the heritage not only of one family, but that of all the people of Soweto and of our nation who refused to bow down to tyranny or succumb to bitterness,” Mandela said in a message read out by his daughter Zinzi at the official reopening after months of renovations.

Zinzi was joined by her mother, Mandela’s former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and other family members.

The three-roomed house now has a new, modern visitors center, with a small memorial garden tracing the Mandela family history.

Inside are a few of the house’s original furnishings and other memorabilia from Mandela’s life. There are photographs of Madikizela-Mandela ironing, Mandela’s late son reading in the lounge and of a young Mandela playing with a dog in the yard.

There is also the world championship belt given to Mandela by Sugar Ray Leonard and a wall of citations from cities and universities across the world.

The small red-brick house, built in 1945, is typical of the “matchbox” homes in the sprawling township that was at the center of the fight against apartheid.

Mandela moved there in 1946 with his first wife, Evelyn. He did not spend much time in the house because he was often running from security forces before he was arrested and imprisoned in 1962.

The Mandela family occupied the house until 1996, when it was turned over to heritage authorities and opened to the public.

“It’s brought wonderful memories back,” Madikizela-Mandela said Thursday after walking around the property. “The memory of all those days of struggle. This is where the battles were fought.”

Madikizela-Mandela said Mandela had seen the refurbished house and, along with the family, was “absolutely delighted” by the renovation.

Retiree Mildred Manong, 63, a veteran of anti-apartheid struggles in Soweto, said she hopes the museum will boost tourism in the rapidly developing area. Tourists already flock to Vilakazi street which is also home to South African Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

For tattooed and pierced Kenosi Khoza, 23, the house stands as an important reminder, especially for those who did not grow up under the shadow of apartheid.

“It is very important to teach the next generation the things people went through to get freedom,” said the young musician, who lives a few streets away.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.