Madiba’s Joburg

2012-07-14 15:49

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Number 46 in Alexandra’s Seventh Avenue doesn’t look like paradise, but it’s a place that holds a special place in Nelson Mandela’s heart, writes Lucas Ledwaba.

The three men sitting on the stoep of a shop on the corner of Richard Baloyi and Seventh Avenue in Alexandra township smile.

“Ah, there, that is the place. Are you looking for the house where Nelson Mandela used to live?”

None of them was born when Mandela rented the small room at stand number 46 in Seventh Avenue between 1941 and 1944.

One of the men is Walter Nkuna (64).

His mother, Anna, who lived there, was one of the few who remembered the former president’s stay there. She died last year aged 92.

But Nkuna, who still lives there, reckons Mandela’s presence can still be felt.

He has hazy memories of newspaper reports of the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

“We still feel his inspiration even though he has been gone from here for a long time. It’s a blessing that he once lived here. He is a gift from God, an angel. There is no world leader who is loved like him. That should tell you something,” says Nkuna.

The yard overlooks an imposing building that forms part of the Mandela Yard Interpretation Centre, which is being developed into a Heritage Site.

When Mandela lived there, the house was owned by John Madzeka Xhoma and his wife, Harriet.

Mandela wrote in his memoirs from prison about Alexandra, which was his first home in Johannesburg after he fled an arranged marriage in Transkei: “Alexandra occupies a treasured place in my heart. It was the first place I lived away from home . . . I regarded the township as a home in which I had no specific house.”

Alexandra’s bus boycotts in the 1940s played a big role in developing Mandela’s political consciousness.

He described his room as “a tin-roofed room at the back of (Xhoma’s) property, no more than a shack, with a dirt floor, no heat, no electricity, no running water. But it was a place of my own and I was happy to have it.”

The property is no different from others in the crammed, populous township, which celebrated its centenary this year.

Mongezi Xhoma (19) still lives in the main house where his great-grandparents rented a room to the young Mandela, who had a crush on one of their daughters.

Mongezi smiles when asked if he wonders if life would have been different had Mandela won his great-aunt’s heart.

“What I have been told is that she turned him down because, although Mandela was a tenant, he was regarded as part of the family, so in her eyes he was like a brother,” says Mongezi.

On one of the walls in the lounge of the main house hangs a picture of a recipe made by Mongezi’s grandmother, Gladys, and mother, Nomalizo.

“They say this was Mandela’s favourite meal when he lived here,” says Mongezi about the dish of pig’s head and gravy.

The property is a favourite stop for tourists who want to catch a glimpse of where Mandela lived in his early years in Johannesburg.

“He left us a lot of memories. I was obviously not there, but I have read and listened to the elders talk about this,” he says.

Every year the property hosts a birthday party for the great man and this year will be no different.

In May 2009, Mandela, accompanied by his wife, Graça Machel, visited the property.

“He looked very old,” recalls Emily Bopape (54), who has lived on the property since 1958.

“He walked with difficulty, but we were so happy to see him. He belongs here.”

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.