By John O’Ceallaigh
There aren’t many political leaders who seem to be beyond reproach, but I think we can all agree that Nelson Mandela is among the few global figures who remains beloved by all. That’s certainly still the case in South Africa, so it’s quite a big deal that the Johannesburg home he lived in after being released from his 27-year imprisonment will open to the public this July as Sanctuary Mandela, an intimate, exclusive nine-bedroom boutique hotel.
Found in the upmarket suburb of Houghton, the expansive two-storey villa is surrounded by lush gardens and even without the Mandela connection it seems like it would be a reasonably nice place to stay in a major city and continental travel hub lacking notable properties. (I was unimpressed by what was on offer during my own visit a few years back.) There’s an attractive pool area and a roof garden; a casual bar and modern restaurant; spacious bedrooms are spruce and stylishly finished in emerald-green, taupe and ivory.
Still, clearly the main selling is its previous owner and his legacy. This is where Mandela hosted the likes of Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton and it was in the surrounding streets that mourners spontaneously congregated when news of his death was announced back in 2013. Guests at the property will literally walk in his footsteps and the aforementioned restaurant will serve some of his favourite dishes.
Despite its small size, the property has also incorporated two meeting rooms with conferencing facilities and I expect it will gain a lot of custom from corporate clients who hire out the hotel in its entirety to host incentive trips for senior staff – what an inspiring place to ruminate on leadership, influence and all the types of things that are meant to be up for discussion during gatherings like that…
The hotel is also within walking distance of the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, which contains an archive relating to Mandela and is more broadly dedicated to maintaining his legacy and campaigning for the democratic and social causes which he held dear. The Nelson Mandela Foundation is a key stakeholder in Sanctuary Mandela.
Given he’s such a hero nationally, it’s little surprise that other South African properties claim certain, occasionally tenuous links with Mandela (such as Belmond’s Mount Nelson hotel in Cape Town, which tells restaurant guests they can “sit at Nelson Mandela’s favourite table”) but there is one other notable option when it comes to occupying a setting credible associated with the man himself.
Two hours or so by car from Johannesburg, Shambala Private Game Reserve in Limpopo province is owned by the South African billionaire Douw Steyn and includes among its inventory the Nelson Mandela Villa. Steyn had the home built in 2001 and provided it as a retreat for Mandela, who used the space right up until his death. Today the villa is available to rent as a six-bedroom exclusive-use holiday home and it still retains some of Mandela’s personal possessions, alongside a guest book signed by some of the many notable personalities he hosted, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Naomi Campbell and Oprah Winfrey.
B&B rates at Sanctuary Mandela start at ZAR4,000 (£200) per night in a Deluxe Studio; stays in the accurately named Presidential Suite cost from ZAR15,000 (£760) per night.
[The website isn’t live yet; it may be opening soon, but that’s how fresh news of this opening is. If you’d like to look at something else fancy in South Africa in the interim, there’s always the incredible Kruger Shalati safari lodge formed from railway carriages that are stretched above a river.]