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Iconic legacy lived through tourism development

Iconic legacy lived through tourism development

How does one keep legacy alive, the legacy of one of the world’s great leaders?

How does one continue to honor it, learn from it, be inspired by it?

How does one stay true to it?

Close to it?

How does one actually do it?

By not just living it, but living in it.

Such is the vision and aspiration of a unique partnership that came to life at the time of celebration of a great life – the Centenary of President Nelson Mandela. Just a matter of days ago, on July 18th – the date declared by the United Nations as the UN’s Mandela Day – a world’s first tourism project was launched to the country of Madiba’s (President Mandela’s clan name) birth and life’s legacy, and to the world that continues to honor his greatness to humanity.

The place: Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa

The structure: the home of President Mandela over the period of 1992 to 1998, six of the most critical and iconic years in his leadership of the new South Africa.

The tourism concept: transformation of the President’s former residence into the Nelson Mandela Presidential Centre (NMPC) of reflection, and boutique hotel.

The partners: a unique union of business and NGO – the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF – the foundation responsible for the legacy and living memory of President Mandela) and Thebe Tourism Group (TTG – a division of Thebe Investment Corporation, which was founded in 1992 by President Mandela (along with fellow freedom fighters Walter Sisulu, Reverend Beyers Naude and Enos Mabuza) as an economic lever for the building of the future of South Africa.

The reason for their joining of forces for the purpose of sustaining the legacy: as overtly stated by Sello Hatang, the Chief Executive of NMF:

Firstly, “The legacy of Nelson Mandela ultimately belongs to all who are committed to working for the world of his dreams. Both the South African state and business are stakeholders. Cross-sectoral partnerships, including public-private projects, are vital if Madiba’s dreams are to be realized. No one country, institution, community can succeed in promoting it alone.”

And furthermore,: “The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Thebe Group have partnered on numerous projects over the last five years. Both organizations were founded by Nelson Mandela. And they share a vision for developing Madiba’s former residence in 13th Avenue Houghton as a sustainable public resource. We are both committed to promoting the legacy through tourism.”


But is it really possible for commercially-minded, tourism enterprises and programmes to stay true to spirit of people and place? This is an ongoing, increasingly loud debate as the issue of over-tourism overwhelms the sector. How can the often-painful side effects of tourists taking over sacred spaces be prevented, enabling destinations to peacefully and purposefully develop through the building of strong, sustainable tourism economies and societies?

TTG’s CEO, Jerry Mabena, is determined to ensure that protecting the legacy of President Mandela is done because of tourism, not despite. As firmly stated by Mabena:

“For us as Thebe there are two major reasons for the participation in the NMPC . Firstly, to honor our founding father President Nelson Mandela by sharing some of the stories and decisions taken during his stay in the House – to find a way to curate and share with the world a glimpse into the human side of a President who dealt with many complexities. Like the Mandela of then, Thebe is also seeking to balance contrarian views of commerciality – profit and nation building. We believe that TTG and NMF in collaboration are best placed to give effect to the balancing of this “contrarian” objective by recognizing the need to keep the place sacred while we recognize the need for it to tell the Story in order to remain sustainable.”

Mabena continues, making clear the clarity of priority behind this partnership and project:

“Secondly this project fits in snuggly to the TTG strategy of creating and Managing iconic destinations . This site will become a unique and exclusive iconic destinations albeit limited to scholarship and diplomatic corp. This will provide the world with the only place in the world where you can sleep where he slept, eat the food President Mandela likes and hear the stories of the food and the private life of the man from the very person who daily cooked for him. These stories will be told and stored for posterity – keeping the human side of President Mandela alive and accessible.”


Sitting on a residential plot of land 3000 m2 within one of Johannesburg’s suburban communities, the former president’s timeless two-story home is now 40 years old. Its wisdom, and historic wonder, however, goes far beyond its 40 years.

As a result, as easy as it would be to market the property as a high profile, high luxury, iconic place to stay, principle and promise of reflection has been central to all design and development efforts. As shared by TTG, interior design thinking was directly inspired by the goal of the house being a “‘hallowed/functional’ space needs to reflect:

– A strong sense of history, ongoing learning and respect.

– The experience of walking the halls or passages of the home sitting in the sun, in the full knowledge of the man that went before.

– Appreciating fully the unbelievable humility of the man himself and his generosity to others.

– A seamless melding of many cultures all of which formed an integral part of the dream he so strived for and worked tirelessly for.

= A strong sense of family, he held so dear.”

Seeking to be accredited at 5-star rating, as stated by the architectural design brief:

“The Mandela Presidential Centre is a 9-bed upmarket property that will attract a primary market of high-end business travelers, the diplomatic corps and a secondary group of leisure travelers from around the world. The center will strive to provide its guests with a holistically five-star experience in a sought-after suburb within a retreat-like setting.”

Acting as the compass of conscience, the NMF confidently stands alongside TTG in not only knowing the power of the proposition of the NMPC and boutique hotel, but protecting the ethos of the idea, ultimately ensuring that, as Hatang states,: “It is not just advertised purely as a high-end hotel.”

Just one day before, July 17th, 2018, at the Centenary occasion of the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, former US President Obama expressed unedited the importance of access to sources of inspiration and direction to ensure that the responsibility of democracy remains an enduring and tireless commitment. Unleashing his deepest passions of principle, President Obama spoke to the audience and watching world:

“To make democracy work, Madiba shows us that we also have to keep teaching our children, and ourselves – and this is really hard – to engage with people not only who look different but who hold different views. This is hard. Democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us, so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours.”

Through President Mandela’s Houghton home, thorough this place of profound history, tourism will act as a lever for connecting leaders to the wisdom and courage they travel the world to find.

As poetically expressed by the NMF’s CEO at the official sod turning ceremony for the Houghton house project, on Mandela Day 2018:

“Today, on his birthday, we mark the inauguration of the property refurbishment project to make The Mandela Presidential Centre a reality. Nelson Mandela was a traveler in his later life, who made a difference in the lives of those he met and those he travelled with. He had an impact on the places he touched and left a part of his beloved land wherever he went. May we continue to be the travelers who make a difference.”