Soweto: A Fleeting Visit to Mandela House

24 Feb 2013

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Mandela House

Raheem Akingbolu was part of a group put together by Guinness Nigeria to watch the final of the African Cup of Nations. He relives the experience of touring Soweto before the match…

Soweto, the hometown of former South African President Nelson Mandela, wore a different outlook this sunny afternoon. Date was February 10, the D-Day for the final match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Stallions of Burkina Faso.  Though a Sunday afternoon, happenings on the streets didn’t present the people as dye-in-the-wool Christian soldiers. Except for the religious activities around a few churches, most discussions were centered on the match that would be played later in the evening.

By the time this reporter and scores of Nigerians, who were in the country to witness the final match, got to Nelson Mandela’s house on Orlando West, around 1pm, the entire street had been filled to the brim with tourists from various countries, who were around to have a feel of what the blacks had undergone in the hands of the white minority-led apartheid regime. According to a tour guide, who simply introduced himself as Paul, the Mandela House on 8115 Orlando West, Soweto was transformed to a world-class tourist attraction and centre for research of the history and legacy of the Mandela family.

Mandela House
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and his family were said to have lived in the house from 1946 till the 1990’s. The former president, however, donated it to the Soweto Heritage Trust on September 1 1997, to be used as a tourist center. Paul said: “The purpose of the house is to provide an efficient experience for visitors both in the context of the life of the elder statesman, his politics and his country in a way that it would promote democracy, reconciliation and tolerance amongst the peoples of South Africa.” Though time constraints could not allow “Friends of Guinness Nigeria,” the group this reporter belonged to, to enter the house, as there were still many places pencilled down for the tour, Paul explained that the house stocked some personal belongings of Mr. Mandela before his incarceration, including his bed, chair, clothes, books and photographs with appropriate captions.

The tour guide went on to explain that the Mandela House is being managed by the Soweto Heritage Trust. He explained this as a partnership project between the City of Johannesburg, the Standard Bank Group and the Gauteng Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation.

Home of Desmond Tutu
At the house of Desmond Tutu, also in Soweto, some Nigerian visitors lamented the lackadaisical attitude of Nigeria leaders toward protecting their countries’ heritage. Forty-five- year- old John Ngozi Nwasuku, an Aba based farmer, who said the trip was his first time of boarding a aircraft, said he was not happy that successful leaders in Nigeria failed to appreciate the place of the Obafemi Awolowos, Nnamdi Azikwes and the Ahmadu Bellos in the history of the country’s struggle and celebrate them in like manner rather than singing their praises to woo voters whenever election approaches.

“I grew up in the Eastern Nigerian thinking our ‘Greak Zik’ was a supernatural person. I cannot understand why his importance in history cannot be played up to attract foreigners as South African has done for Mandela and Tutu. We only remember our heroes in Nigeria when we want to use their names to canvass for votes,” he said.

Nwazuku and his businessman son –Victor, who is based in Port Harcourt, River State made the trip to South Africa courtesy Guinness Nigeria. The father was one of the lucky winners in the “Guinness Fly with the Eagles Promo,” through which the company took over 150 consumers to the AFCON. Because a winner was entitled to travel with another person, John embarked on the journey with his son.

Hector Pieterson Museum
While visitors were cracking jokes and exchanging banters at Mandela and Tutu’s houses, the atmosphere changed at Hector Pieterson Museum, which was not far from the spot where a 12 year-old Hector was shot on June 16, 1976 during the Soweto uprising. As the tour guide in his dramatic manner painted the gory picture of how hundreds of children were murdered in a gruesome manner, some visitors betrayed their emotions as tears ran freely down their cheeks.  The museum was opened in 2002.

According to the tour guide, the museum is not only the symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government; it is a place that brought into memory innocent children who were killed at their early years. “On the day Hector was killed,” Paul explained, “school children had gathered to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in township schools. Before the children who were singing solidarity songs could disperse, the police opened fire and killed many children in the ensuing pandemonium.”
The police were reported to have opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium.

A photograph mounted at a corner before entering the museum, which was said to have been taking by one Sam Nzima, a photographer at the time for The World newspaper, was according to the tour guide what turned Hector Pieterson, who was the first person to be killed, to something of an iconic image of the historical moment.  The picture shows the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student, with his sister alongside. The said picture expresses panic and confusion.

Time for lunch before heading towards the stadium and coordinators of the Guinness team invited all into the waiting bus, which took them, including yours sincerely to a restaurant called WANDIES PLACE, also in Soweto. The restaurant, which parades mostly African foods, is owned by 56 year-old Wandi Ndala, who said he had been maintaining the place for 33 years.

“I was 25 year-old when I started this place as a sheebeen, selling only beer at a time Africans were not allowed to stay in Soweto. Sheebeen means selling beer without license. Later we added fish and meat. And years later, we started selling food and turned it to a premium restaurant in Soweto. Today, it is common to hear people say your visit to Soweto is not complete until you have visited Wandies Place.”

The highpoint of our time at the restaurant came when a musical group, led by one Rubs Baliwa, emerged to entertain guests from one corner.  Among other interesting songs, the group thrilled their guests with lines from Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Mariam Makeba  and Brenda Fassie.

Heady Climax
The tournament climaxed later in the evening with a closing ceremony that included Nigerian pop star D’Banj, who sang Oliver Twist, his hit song. Yvonne Chaka Chaka, who with Mark Fish, had read out a statement against malaria –sang about “Heart of Fire” with excitement.  Kelly Khumalo also did wonder while dancers formed the shape of the continent of Africa.

“We‘re paying homage to the continent that cradled human kind,”  boomed the voice-over in the stadium, before a commercial selling South Africa to the world was aired with statistics on the Unique Selling Point of the country.  To Nigerians and other nationals, who still see homosexual and lesbianism as grave sins, seeing people of the same sex kissing and running hands around the bodies of their partners was not pleasant to their eyes. But that was part of the side attractions at the National Stadium Jo’burg on this Sunday night.

Another surprise was that while Nigerian present were expecting heavy traffic after the global event as it would have happened in a place like Surulere’s National Stadium in Lagos or even Abuja National Stadium, they were disappointed as nothing signified an unusual event outside.  In fact, not even the presence of South African President Jacob Zuma was enough to hold people down for a minute.

“It’s shocking to see the road clear barely 20 minutes after the match, no blaring of siren or restriction on other motorists. Sure I’m shocked and I pray that this type of sanity happens in my country,” Mrs. Yetunde Salau, an Abuja based Estate Management Consultant, told THISDAY.

Corporate Relation Director, Guinness Nigeria, Mr. Sesan Sobowale, whose company facilitated the trip of over 150 Nigerians to the tournament, said he was overwhelmed with the success of the exercise.

“That our initiative is 90 percent successful makes us feel great. Again, the enthusiasm of our customers who made the trip and the fact that Nigeria won the cup filled our hearts with joy. With this, I think Guinness has again demonstrated its belief in Nigeria as a great country,” he said.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Mandela House

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