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The house with a history

Getting to Vilakazi Street in easy once in Soweto. Just follow the tourist trail. Made famous by pacifists acknowledged with Nobel Peace Prizes, this narrow street has Desmond Tutu’s white house by the corner and the world’s most famous ‘match-box house’, where Nelson Mandela lived, a little distance uphill.

sports Updated: Jun 25, 2010 00:41 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Getting to Vilakazi Street in easy once in Soweto. Just follow the tourist trail. Made famous by pacifists acknowledged with Nobel Peace Prizes, this narrow street has Desmond Tutu’s white house by the corner and the world’s most famous ‘match-box house’, where Nelson Mandela lived, a little distance uphill.

The number of tourist buses parked by 8115 Orlando West — a red, single-storey house — where everyone is in some team shirt or scarf is just another example of the World Cup going beyond football.

Now a museum, the 60 rand (Rs 364.77 approx) entry ticket has a picture of Mandela with the World Cup and a football above which 2010 is emblazoned. Yellow slabs embedded among red bricks mentioning important dates in Mandela’s life make the trip inside the house self-explanatory but inputs from Madonna, our elderly guide in close-cropped curls and long coat, help.

Mandela and his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, came to live here in 1946, the house being allotted to Evelyn because she was a nurse. “Apart from when he left the country, in 1961, to seek support for the African National Congress, this was where he lived till life imprisonment (1964) and again in 1991,” Madonna said. Mandela donated this house to the Soweto Heritage Trust in 1997 and two years later, it was declared a national monument.

Surrounded by a courtyard that has a tea table and two chairs, all painted white, the house can be entered through the kitchen on one side and the living area on the other. Preserved inside is the original dining table — bought by the government when the house was restored in 2008-09 after Winnie Mandela, the second wife, had sold it — the brown leather sofa, the single bed and archaic phone Mandela used.

In one corner of the narrow bedroom lies a brown chest that, Madonna said, was part of Winnie’s wedding gift. “It is given from the wife’s side to show that she now belongs to another family.”

Of all the pictures that adorn the walls, the one of Mandela standing full length in suit with his dog reaching up to him looks the brightest. In this frame by the portico, Mandela is smiling. As if welcoming visitors to his house and to this “Rainbow Nation’ he helped build.