Destination South Africa has much to offer those wanting to explore South Africa. Here are some great iconic houses to unpack, although there are many that are not mentioned here.
Satyagraha House in Orchards, Johannesburg
Mohandas Gandhi himself lived in Satyagraha House in the leafy suburb of Orchards just over a hundred years ago from 1908 to 1909. It was here that the future Mahatma developed his notion of submissive resistance or ‘Satyagraha’ in Sanskrit, hence the name.
This little drop of history has been restored to its former glory, offering a cosy guesthouse comprising seven rooms and tea garden – it is perhaps one of South Africa’s best kept little historical secrets! The house is on a peaceful side street, literally a block away from the bustling, Afro-cosmopolitan vibe of Louis Botha Avenue, which is a complete surprise to visitors. Stepping inside its enveloping cocoon of peace, staff (all the staff are dressed in soothing white; they have a soothing presence). The garden is an oasis of calm and for some reason, the pink magnolia tree always seems to be in bloom.
Mandela House is situated in Orlando West, Soweto on the corners of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets – a humble abode where Nelson Mandela and his family lived from 1946 until the 90s.
Manda lived in the house with his first wife Evelyn Mase and after his divorce, he lived with Winnie Mandikizela-Mandela. Nelson Mandela did not spend much time at this home as his role in the anti-apartheid struggle forced him to operate underground before he was arrested in 1962.
Madikizela-Mandela continued to live in the house with their two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi until she was banished to the Free State town of Brandfort in 1977.
Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela moved back to the house for a short 11 days before moving to larger and more secure premises in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
The Mandela House on Vilakazi Street is now a museum and houses several memorabilia and works of arts as well as other memorabilia dating back to the 50s.
The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda
The Owl House in Nieu Bethesda is a quirky Karoo cottage and yard one found in the Eastern Cape. The house can be found deep in the Sneeuwberg Mountains; a house completely transformed by Helen Martins into a glass-encrusted wonderland and statue garden. The house is open to the public daily, except on Christmas Day.
Helen Martins, born in 1897 revamped her house by using mirrors and then glass to transform ordinary walls into glittering arenas of colour. She crushed her own glass from bottles and used the shards as wallpaper. She created concrete statues outside with the help of a team of workers. Helen dubbed the backyard the Camel Yard because of the large number of camels that populate it, roughly a third life-size – many facing the metal wording on the southern fence that says “East / Oos”.
Today the yard is a forest of some 500 statues, that is both baffling and compelling. Miss Helen committed suicide in 1976 by swallowing caustic soda leaving behind a legacy of intrigue; no doubt, her kingdom sparks the imagination.
These three examples of exciting, interesting and historical homes are but a drop in the ocean. Discover many homes, museums and more throughout South Africa – you will be pleasantly surprised at how much history can be unearthed.