By Peta Thornycroft
A Mandela family dispute has meant the historic Johannesburg mansion where the anti-Apartheid campaigner passed away has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.
Now, amid stories of leaks, unpaid bills and arguments between his grandchildren, his family are reported to be trying to sell the property where Nelson Mandela once entertained prominent international figures and where crowds wept in the streets to mourn his death.
An elegant, high-end gated home in the upmarket Houghton suburb, part of old Johannesburg, the building where Mandela lived from 1998 until he died in 2013 was supposed to be left to his family “in perpetuity”.
Michelle Obama was one of the last non-family members to see Mandela at his longtime home in Houghton during a visit in 2011 – Samantha Appleton /Official White House Photo
However, these days, the building on 12th Avenue is shabby and deserted, with uncollected post visible under the front door, the huge garden overgrown and the tennis court dilapidated.
Outside, where well-wishers placed painted pebbles with messages of support for the former South African president while he was ill, the pavement is now covered with grass and litter.
The front of the property is overgrown and unkempt – Sebabatso Mosamo
Until last year, the house was occupied by three of Mandela’s grandchildren from his first marriage.
They have said they moved out after the Nelson Mandela Trust, which had been paying the home’s utility bills as a courtesy to the family, suddenly stopped.
One grandson, Ndala Mandela, blamed the Trust for the house’s dilapidated state, telling journalists last week: “The trustees decided not to pay for lights in order to kick us out.”
But the Trust says it only refused to pay bills when they soared last year.
“[The Trust] has paid massive household bills over the years, until suddenly, late last year when the costs were three times higher than normal,” explained one of the trustees Wim Trengove, a lawyer who regularly represented Mandela.
Eventually a leak in the plumbing was discovered and the unpaid bills have now been settled.
But the grandchildren have decided not to move back and the family is looking to sell the property.
“The members of the Mandela family [have] discussed the fate of the house and… the family decided by an overwhelming majority that the house should be sold,” said Mr Trengove.
Only Ndala Mandela is reported to be against the idea, telling South Africa’s Sunday Times last week: “It belongs in the family. I will fight for it, with everything that I have.”
Originally from Mvezo in Cape Province, Mandela had chosen to live in the tree-lined, predominantly white suburb of Houghton after his separation from second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
He was released from Victor Verster Prison in 1990 and he chose to live in Houghton, apparently, because he had white friends there who he visited during the height of apartheid.
He moved into the 12th Avenue mansion when he married his third wife Graca Machel, the widow of the first president of Mozambique.
It was at this property that he spent most of his retirement after stepping down as president in 1999, using it as a base – along with his home in the village of Qunu, where he was buried – to continue with his philanthropy and political activism and to entertain world leaders.
Among the varied assortment of high-profile figures who visited him were Irish rock star Bono, golfing legend Tiger Woods and footballers Christiano Ronaldo and David Beckham. One of the last non-family members to see him in the house before he passed away was the former US first lady, Michelle Obama.
After lying in state in Pretoria, his funeral was eventually held in Qunu on Dec. 15, 2013, attended by high-profile figures including Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey. But mourners continued to gather outside his Houghton home and leave tributes to the world-renowned statesman.
Since then, tourist buses regularly stop at Mandela’s last home, with visitors stopping to take photos outside the house and read the messages on the children’s pebbles on the pavement.
But with the coronavirus pandemic, even that has stopped, leaving the place feeling more deserted than ever.
- The Telegraph