Mandela Shrine, the former president’s house transformed into a boutique hotel
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Johannesburg (AFP) – Anti-apartheid legend Nelson Mandela loved simple, hearty meals, like oxtail stew. It was a favorite of South Africa’s first black president and he now fills the ravioli served in his old home, which has been turned into a boutique hotel.
The interior of the building, hidden in a quiet street in an affluent Johannesburg suburb, had been defaced by squatters.
But after a floor-to-ceiling renovation, sunlight now floods generous skylights and bay windows. The white facade is all that remains of the original building.
Mandela lived there for eight years before moving to another house around the corner with his third wife Graca Machel. He arrived shortly after his release from prison in 1990 and quickly got to meet the neighbors, said managing director Dimitri Maritz.
“He went knocking on every door, to introduce himself and invite neighbors over for canapes and cocktails,” Maritz said.
“A Chinese chased him away. When he realized he had closed the door in Mandela’s face, it is said that he moved out soon after,” laughed Maritz, noting the scent of urban legend of the story.
The hotel, named Sanctuary Mandela, opened in September for guests looking to tap into the calm and positive energy of the ex-president.
The Presidential Suite was once the President’s Chamber, although guest heads do not rest where his was. After the renovation, the bathroom is now where his bed was.
The window frames bear his nickname “Madiba” and his Robben Island prison number “466/64” – carved in wood by his grandson.
– ‘Not a difficult person’ –
After Mandela’s release at 71, he yearned for the simple pleasures he’d been denied during 27 years in prison: playing with his grandchildren, the smell of a rose, a sip of his favorite sweet Constantia wine.
“He wasn’t a picky person,” said Chef Xoliswa Ndoyiya, who served Mandela’s meals for two decades.
She now runs the kitchen of the hotel restaurant, where each dish is inspired by her tastes.
“He didn’t want to see a greasy plate, he didn’t have a sweet tongue. Fruit that he ate all the time, all day long,” she recalls.
“He was more of a father than a boss. He made you feel comfortable, like you were part of his family.”
Like Mandela, she belongs to the Xhosa ethnic group, which gives her a shared culinary sensibility.
If she tried to impress Mandela’s VIP guests with food that she didn’t like, “he’d be like ‘Why don’t you feed me right?’ I would feel guilty for trying to please the guests rather than my boss, ”she said.
He loved to eat his chicken with his fingers, cleaning the meat to the bone.
“With him you have to be humble. He taught us that people will know who you are. I miss him greatly.”
“Not a museum”
As long as the building has been renovated, management wants it to feel like a home.
Pictures of Mandela on the walls show him playing hide and seek with a baby, dressed to perfection as a young lawyer and standing with outstretched arms reading a newspaper.
The rooms bear the nicknames, Madiba and Tata, which South Africans affectionately used for him.
“It’s not supposed to be a museum,” Maritz said. “We want to keep a legacy, but it has to stand on its own, it has to stay alive.”
The goal of financial sustainability is a key difference from other sites that commemorate the struggle against apartheid.
Here the assumption is that people come for the peace and quiet that home offers. Which doesn’t mean they won’t talk about Mandela.
“We have so many stories,” Maritz said. “But we only tell these stories when asked.”
“You come first for Madiba, the second time for the place itself,” he added, hoping that the new company will embody Mandela’s qualities: “Humility and elegance”.
© 2021 AFP