WINNIE’S BRANDFORT LEGACY LIES IN RUINS
The Brandfort house to which the struggle icon was banished in 1977 is now a dump where used condoms and dagga butts cover the floors
Abreeze wafts through a broken window and over grimy floors cluttered with used condoms and other junk. This is the house struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived in for eight years. Here at house number 802 in Majwemasweu township outside Brandfort, the small Free State town to which the apartheid government banished her in 1977, she slept, cooked and wrote letters to her then husband, Nelson Mandela.
Today, the only sign she once lived there is a sign in the long grass, which gives information of a failed attempt to restore the house and turn it into a museum. Outside the main house stands a rusty, framed structure, once a clinic and community centre that Madikizela Mandela established, but that was bombed by apartheid security forces in 1985.
Through curatorial items and the house being left mostly in its original form, visitors were supposed to come to learn about Madikizela-Mandela’s life of isolation in Brandfort, also, ironically, home to apartheid’s architect, Hendrik Verwoerd. Her movements were always closely monitored by a police officer on a koppie nearby.
But, R1.8 million later, it remains abandoned with patched walls and eroded memories, a sore reminder of an illustrious legacy of the woman locals still fondly call Mama Winnie.
Residents say the house went from being a symbol of hope to one synonymous with all manner of social ills: one in which women are raped, where adulterous quickies take place and drug users hide out.
The floors – strewn with broken booze bottles, used condoms and wrappers, matchboxes, marijuana joints and old clothing – bear testimony to what happens here in the dark.
Former teacher Norah Moahloli, who befriended Madikizela-Mandela in the 1970s, recalled how the struggle icon was branded a communist and how the public was not allowed to talk to her.
“We weren’t supposed to even respond to her greeting from behind the fence where she lived in isolation, but, in the end, her angelic spirit came out and we could not run away from her any more as she began to uplift our community,” she said.
There is a crèche that still operates today at a local Methodist church, as well as soup kitchens, sewing projects and many other community initiatives Madikizela-Mandela founded. So a museum would save people from digging for traces of Mama Winnie’s legacy, which lives on in the dusty township more than three decades later.
“I was happy [thinking] that the museum project was going to end all criminal activities at this house. But at the rate things are going, someone will soon get killed or die from drugs there. I also don’t feel safe living next to Ma’ Winnie’s house, when I should be proud of it,” said 77-year-old Betty France, who lives next door.
France wondered what happened to the project after money was set aside for it. Part of her fence was removed by men digging trenches in preparation for construction, but it all ended there. “They left my fence [wide open],” she complained. According to Independent Development Trust (IDT), the department of arts and culture initially allocated R3 million to the project, of which R1 858 195.71 was transferred to them as an implementing agent to oversee the project.
They appointed a contractor for R2.5 million in November 2013, but terminated the contract one year later because the contractor failed to do the job.
By then, the IDT had spent R593 622 on consultancy fees, including one payment for R117 543 “mainly for preliminaries and general site establishment and earthworks”, said IDT spokesperson Lesego Mashigo.
He said the scope of work was later reduced, bringing the project down to R1.36 million. Other features such as the youth centre were scrapped.
“The IDT was awaiting approval from the department to proceed with the appointment of a [second] contractor for the implementation of the reduced scope of work when its agreement was terminated on November 9 2016,” he said.
“A process of ceding all the documentation, assets and liabilities to [the department] is under way. The remaining amount of R1 264 573.42 remains in the trust account of the [department].”
DERELICT Madikizela-Mandela’s former house in Brandfort
REMINDER The clinic in Brandfort that was bombed by the apartheid government
CONFIDANTE Brandfort’s former primary school teacher, Norah Moahloli, was Winnie MadikizelaMandela’s close friend in the 1970s