CLIENTS enjoy lunch at the Sanctuary Mandela hotel.—AFP
CLIENTS enjoy lunch at the Sanctuary Mandela hotel.—AFP

JOHANNESBURG: Anti-apartheid legend Nelson Mandela liked hearty, simple meals, like oxtail stew. It was a favourite dish of South Africa’s first black president and now fills ravioli served in his former home, which has been transformed into a boutique hotel.

The inside of the building, hidden on a quiet street in a wealthy suburb of Johannesburg, had been defaced by squatters.

But after a floor-to-ceiling remodel, now sunlight floods in from 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 home around the corner with his third wife Graca Machel. He arrived shortly after his release from prison in 1990, and promptly set about meeting the neighbours, general manager Dimitri Maritz said.

“He went knocking on every door, to introduce himself and invite neighbours for canapes and cocktails,” Maritz said.

“A Chinese man shooed him away. When he realised he had shut the door in Mandela’s face, it is said that he moved not long after that,” Maritz laughed, while noting the tale’s whiff of urban legend.

The hotel, named Sanctuary Mandela, opened in September for guests seeking to bask in the ex-president’s calm and positive energy.

The presidential suite was once actually the president’s bedroom, though the heads of guests do not rest where his did. After the remodel, the bathroom is now where his bed once stood.

The window frames bear his nickname “Madiba” and his Robben Island prison number “466/64” — scratched into the wood by his grandson.

After Mandela’s release at age 71, he yearned for the simple pleasures he had been denied during 27 years in prison: playtime with his grandchildren, the scent of a rose, a sip of his favourite sweet Constantia wine.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2021

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