A family and a house
Alf Kumalo’s pictures of the Mandelas in their Orlando West home have many tales to tell, writes VIVIEN HORLER
NUMBER 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, was built in 1945, a two-roomed municipal house identical to hundreds of others. It had a cement floor, tin roof, a narrow kitchen with a cement sink, and a bucket toilet at the back. Curtains separated the two rooms, and there was a glossy, red-polished stoep.
Its first resident wrote: “It was the very opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own.”
He was Nelson Mandela, and he moved in with his wife Evelyn and their son Thembekile in 1946, paying a monthly rent of 17 shillings and sixpence.
It might have been an ordinary house, but its residents meant 8115 Vilakazi Street’s history has been utterly different from its neighbours’. It has been raided, shot at, burned down, it has hosted the likes of Coretta Scott King, Muhammad Ali, Whitney Houston and Tokyo Sexwale as a fleeing student; it has been a refuge for hundreds and a virtual prison. It was the house Mandela returned to after his release from prison in February 1990. Now it is a heritage site and a museum. For obvious reasons, for much of its history the family did not live at 8115 Vilakazi Street. Mandela was, of course, in prison for 27 years; his second wife Winnie Madikizela, whom he married in 1958, spent years banished to Brandfort in the Free State; and their daughters, Zenani and Zindzi, attended boarding school in Swaziland. But while they might not always have been there, it was home.
Journalist and novelist Zukiswa Wanner has done an excellent job retelling the family history. Ahmed Kathrada said last week during the 50th anniversary commemorations of the arrests at Lilliesleaf Farm that while the Rivonia prisoners were on Robben Island, they were protected in a way that people on the outside were not.
One forgets how appalling and unrelenting the harassment of Winnie was; she was banned, she lost various jobs because of the conditions of her banning order, the house was frequently raided by the police, the authorities made her visits to Robben Island as difficult as possible.
She was brave – despite knowing she was in the authorities’ sights, she never became her own jailer.
The text is authoritative and informative, but the glory of it is in the pictures.
CLOSE: Zenani, Winnie and Theresa, a friend of Zenani’s from Swaziland, in 1985.
BEST FRIENDS: Mandela outside the house with the family dog, Gompo, in 1959.
BRAVE: Winnie at the gate of 8115.
8115 – A Prisoner’s Home By Alf Kumalo and Zukiswa Wanner (Penguin)