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IIn the 1950s, Mandela & Tambo Attorneys operated out of the humble three-storey Chancellor House building in Johannesburg. Recently restored and refurbished, the once derelict offices at the corner of Fox and Gerard Sekoto streets once again convey the spirit of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and the freedom struggle.
The time is the oppressive 1950s during apartheid. The place is Chancellor House, in the heart of Johannesburg’s CBD. The residents are Mandela & Tambo Attorneys who run their legal firm from these premises.
IIt was a brave decision by owners, the Essa family from Polokwane in Limpopo, to lease their building in a so-called "Indian area" to two black African men.
BBetween 1952 and 1956, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo had a thriving law practice, trying to help others who were accused of crimes against the state and disobeying the draconian laws of the time. Many of their clients needed help in securing passes, obligatory for black citizens to carry at all times.
Ironically, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo were arrested for a crime for which many of their desperate clients had been accused, an event that ended up as the infamous Rivonia Treason Trial.
When Chancellor House opened its doors once again to the public in 2010, Amos Masondo, the former Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, said that "if bricks could talk, this building would have been replete with colourful stories about the struggles for national liberation".
FFor years, the former law offices had been derelict and crumbling, inhabited by squatters, but today the building has been faithfully restored with the help of old photographs.
A new roof has replaced the dilapidated one, new ground-floor windows have been installed, and the three small rooms of the second-floor offices, where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo once practiced as South Africa's first-ever black law firm, have been re-laid with parquet flooring.
Chancellor House is now a dignified freedom struggle museum that resonates with the spirit of the two remarkable men who changed South African history.
TThe Shadow Boxer statue at Chancellor House
Opposite Chancellor House – the original offices of Mandela & Tambo Attorneys in Fox Street – is another interpretation of Gosani’s famous Shadow Boxer picture, this time by artist, Marco Cianfanelli.
The impressive 6m-tall painted steel statue was commissioned by the Joburg Development Agency. An awesome feature of the sculpture is that its unique lighting allows the sculpture to cast a shadow onto the court building behind it.
The iconic Shadow Boxer statue is located at 25 Fox Street, standing guard over the Chancellor House Museum and the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court – symbolising Mandela fighting for our human rights as South Africans. Chancellor House – once a derelict building – has been renovated and is a now a National Heritage Site where visitors can experience an outdoor museum with historical information displayed on public-facing windows.
It’s well worth a visit.
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