Mandela's quest for freedom

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

SOWETO - More than half a century later, the bullet holes are still sprinkled across the wall of his former home, yet another reminder of the harsh road Nelson Mandela has travelled in the quest to gain freedom for his people.

On this spectacular sun-splashed Johannesburg day, we have come to the nearby township of Soweto, three Canadian journalists covering the World Cup in South Africa, to see the house Mandela lived in from 1946 through the late 1950s.

A 10-minute drive from the spectacular World Cup venue of Soccer City, you pass by an endless collection of shanty communities, road side stragglers and plumes of billowing smoke from various grass fires.

Suddenly, just one quick right turn and you are in another world.

This is Vilakazi Street, where Mandela House is located. The four-room building has been turned into a museum, where tourists have the opportunity to see one of the places where this national hero once planted his roots and where locals on the street celebrate daily the man called Mandela.

Outside the museum, there is a flurry of activity. To the left, a collection of shirtless African dancers perform one of their native routines for a handful of appreciative onlookers. Mere steps from them is a local artist, who is displaying his set of colourful man-made figurines. Across the street, a vendor operating a snack cart is chanting "ice cream, chocolate, candy" for any passers-by who might want to satisfy their sweet tooth.

But it is inside the museum, specifically in the small house, where the real fascination begins. There are photos of Mandela and his children all over the place. Tributes to him are on display behind a glass-doored cabinet, including a nice plaque from Ontario and a golden championship title belt given to him personally by Suger Ray Leonard.

Step outside the door, however, and reality sets in.

Look to the right and you see the bullet holes. According to our personable guide, they came from back in the days when police would raid the premises on a regular basis.

One thing is for certain. We are not in Canada any more.

Mandela has pretty much been out of sight since his great granddaughter, Zenani Mandela, 13, was tragically killed in a car accident on the eve of the World Cup opener between Mexico and host South Africa. He was scheduled to attend the event, billed as one of the most significant in the history of this country, but understandably cancelled his appearance in order to mourn.

Nevertheless, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter stated during the World Cup opening ceremonies on that June 11 afternoon, Mandela's "spirit" was in the stadium with us.

Just like it is when you visit Mandela House.

The bullet holes are just part of his story.

One that is a long way from being finished.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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