The Nelson Mandela Foundation, together with Thebe Tourism Group, held a sod-turning ceremony to celebrate the construction of the Mandela Atlantic Presidential Centre on July 18. The Centre is to be housed at Nelson Mandela’s house in Houghton, Johannesburg, and will include meeting facilities and a boutique hotel, all designed to create a centre for reflection.
The event, marking what would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday, was attended by South Africa’s former President, Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s close friend, Advocate George Bizos, and members of the Mandela family.
The building will incorporate the existing façade, maintaining the same feel of the house as it was when Mandela lived there between 1992 and 1998.
The house was Mandela’s home during some crucial moments in the country’s history including his election and inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Sisa Ntshona, South African Tourism CEO, told Tourism Update: “We have heritage in abundance in South Africa and today is really about adding to the suite of our culture and history, and there’s no better day to do that than Mandela’s birthday. This iconic building will only add to our tourism activities.”
Speaking at the event, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO, Sello Hatang, said: “Madiba was a traveller. When he went into hiding to avoid arrest by the apartheid government, he specifically chose the name David Motsamayi, because it means traveller. We would like this centre to become a home for travellers.”
Jerry Mabena, CEO of the Thebe Tourism Group, which is spearheading the construction, told Tourism Update: “We are very aware that this cannot become a commercialised site because it will take away from the historical significance of the house. It is a balancing act to keep the feeling of Madiba alive, respecting the heritage of the building but still encouraging people to visit.”
Mandela’s private chef, Xoliswa Ndoyiya, told those gathered how Mandela would read the newspaper on the patio where she stood every morning. She joked that Mandela was a man of discipline and routine, saying she prepared the same breakfast for him every day for 19 years. Ndoyiya also said how this house became a refuge for people travelling to South Africa, with Mandela often opening his home to visitors.
Mabena said he hoped Ndoyiya would take up residency at the centre as head chef. He believes this will help guests taste the food that Mandela liked to eat while celebrating South African cuisine.
Hatang encouraged visitors to “explore the land that Madiba loved so much”.
Ntshona also had a message for people wanting to experience South Africa during Mandela’s centenary year: “Take your time. Take it in. immerse yourself in the culture. I get told all time that South Africa’s secret weapon is its people. Get to know the people and I think you will find yourself a richer and more enlightened person.”