13 December 2013 by Denise Slabbert

Feeling Madiba's presence

In the past week, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has been a meeting place for many who want to feel closer to the spirit of Madiba.

The plaque at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory surrounded by flowers for Madiba

For many South Africans, hearing the news of the death of Nelson Mandela was a shock. This seems strange as he was 95 and had been 'critical' for many months. But the reality that he was gone felt completely different to the logic of his passing – and for many people living in Johannesburg, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton (NMCM), just a little way from his home, has provided the space to connect with his life and with each other.

Nelson Mandela's office Nelson Mandela's office

Away from the throng of people at Mandela’s house in Houghton and the busy dancing on the streets in Vilakazi Street in Soweto (where he once lived with his family), the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory provides a cool and quiet space for reflection. The centre was officially opened in November and houses many of Mandela's writings, possessions and other elements of his life. You can even see his office, although cordoned off from the public – a space where he worked until retirement.

In a press release announcing that the centre would open its doors to the public in honour of Mandela's passing, chief executive of the centre Sello Hatang said, 'In honouring the legacy of Tata Madiba at this time, the Nelson Mandela Foundation's Centre of Memory is open to the public as a place of memory-sharing and reflection on the life and times of Nelson Mandela.

'With open arms we welcome you into our home, to pay your respects and share your tributes and contributions to recognising this great statesman.'

Visitors at the Centre of Memory Visitors at the Centre of Memory

Hatang says the response has been incredible, 'from the youngest to the oldest coming through'.

One male visitor said of the experience, 'There is the spirit of Madiba all over when you enter the premises.'

His wife said, 'I actually felt so touched, so relieved and so happy at the same time that I feel embraced by his presence.'

A young boy spoke eloquently, saying: 'To see the centre is the opportunity of a lifetime because many of our people haven’t had a chance to come and see it, so for me it’s like being in heaven to see what he wrote, where he slept and what he did. I am very proud of Madiba.'

Even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon popped in to explore the centre the night before Madiba’s funeral on 10 December at the FNB Stadium, where he was one of the guests. Surrounded by his security detail and the flash of cameras, he showed great interest in the materials on display.

Throughout the official 10-day mourning period, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has held various events to commemorate the life and times of Mandela. Perhaps the most jubilant of these was a special tribute led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, where musicians such as PJ Powers, Johnny Clegg, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Sipho Hotstix Mabuse performed.

To see Tutu in ‘full flight’ in praise of his dear friend Mandela was something to behold, and everyone agreed that the laughter, tears and music under the marquee at the Centre of Memory made a night to remember.

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is open to the public for the duration of the 10-day mourning period. General times are 9am to 6pm, but there are special events on for the rest of the week. Visit its website or contact +27 (0)11 547 5600 for more information.

The Centre of Memory is situated at 107 Central Street, Houghton, Johannesburg.

Johnny Clegg. All images Ryan James/Darling Lama Productions Johnny Clegg. All images Ryan James/Darling Lama Productions

Category: Culture & History

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