Follow in Madiba’s footsteps at Sanctuary Mandela

Posted on 1 March 2022 By Matt Sterne

The Sanctuary Mandela lives up to its billing as a place for reflection. By stepping behind the legend, the headlines and the Houghton walls, I certainly felt like I came away with a better understanding of Madiba, as well as being treated to a very memorable and plush stay in the suburbs of Joburg. It certainly is a boutique hotel like no other.

Launched in September 2021, The Sanctuary Mandela has been converted from the house that Mandela called home between 1991 and 1998, where he came to power and married his second wife Graca Machel. It includes elements of the home Madiba lived in after he returned from Robben Island, where he hosted the likes of Michael Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, and which later became the headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Madiba liked Houghton because it was here that he was hidden by friends and comrades while he was on the run and travelling under the alias David Motsamayi in the sixties. The actual building of the Sanctuary Mandela is not overtly palatial but it’s not small either, big enough to hold nine spacious rooms (other than the one based on his Robben Island days), a pool area, bar and restaurant.

The management here prefers to use the word home rather than hotel, just as they prefer the word dining room to restaurant. And it is there, next to the jazz piano – where, I was told, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela would come and entertain in private – that guests can eat like Mandela. The walls hold memories and stories. Near the piano is the original piece of music Quincy Jones wrote for Mandela, while on another wall there are photos of him with Whitney Houston, the Pope and Cyril Ramaphosa. There’s also a photo of him with a cigarette in his mouth reading the newspaper. Then there’s a painting, by John Meyer, of Mandela sitting on a park bench with Bill Clinton. It depicts a private moment between friends, rather than politicians, and shares its name with the dining room: Insights. Meyer’s paintings of Mandela’s life are found throughout the Sanctuary, granting us one more sense of a peek behind the scenes.

Dining like Madiba

For more than 20 years, Xoliswa Ndoyiya was Madiba’s personal and family chef, from his presidency to his retirement and until his passing. Born in Ezibeleni in the Eastern Cape, Xoliswa is now the driving force behind the Sanctuary Mandela’s fine-dining restaurant Insights. The meals – my set menu featured classic South African dishes such as bobotie, morogo, curried samosas, tripe bunny chow – serve as a tribute to his favourite dishes. The general dinner menu is a historical ‘food-print’ of his modest tastes and pays homage to our diverse heritage. In Nelson Mandela’s household, food was more than sustenance. It was about tradition, family, home, sharing, and enjoying meals with those he loved. That’s the spirit that Insights seeks to invoke in their dining experience.

Sleep like a king

Each of the nine rooms are dedicated to a period in Mandela’s extraordinary life, from his childhood, through to his time as an activist, prisoner, and ultimately, president and statesman. The rooms are elegantly decorated with air conditioners and all modern conveniences. Guests will find small nods to Madiba’s life in each of the rooms, including photos and letters from important points of Madiba’s life as well as subtle references to some of the historic moments he was involved in. All rooms are en-suite and are equipped with bath and shower facilities.

Dive even deeper into his life

The Nelson Mandela Foundation is a mere 500 metres from the boutique hotel and offers an even closer look at Mandela’s life. Visitors can take a look at his old office as well as old hand-written notes detailing the peaceful transition of power and a fascinating look through the eyes of those who made that possible.

From R2000 per person sharing,

Pictures: Sanctuary Mandela




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