Just a few hours’ drive north of Johannesburg, in a vast landscape of pristine African bushveld, is Shambala Private Game Reserve. And here, amid the quiet and peace, is a place for contemplation and inner reflection. A place that personifies the ideas of reconciliation and hope. The Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation has been a private home since 2001 and was closed as a mark of respect since the former president’s passing in 2013. The centre reopens in May this year and will be available for public booking for the first time.
The house was originally built for Mandela by a close friend Douw Steyn. It was opened in 2001 as a retreat, a place where the president could receive guests, parties could meet in the spirit of friendship, against the backdrop of secluded natural beauty that is Shambala. It was also a place where Mandela and his family would come to rest.
Visitors would stay in the honeycomb-shaped chalets of the nearby Zulu Camp, and come up to the Centre for Reconciliation to meet and talk. When it opens in May, the centre will be available to rent in its entirety for small groups and families visiting Shambala.
The house will offer its guests an indoor heated pool overlooking a private waterhole, a large outdoor deck and lounge area, a large formal sitting room with a fireplace, a boardroom, a presidential suite with his and hers dressing rooms, private dining area and large living room, and five luxury bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms.
At the specific request of Nelson Mandela, the house is deliberately simple in its design. The African look and feel has been subtly carried through, local motifs are subtly used throughout. As the guest arrives, wooden palisade fencing is reminiscent of a traditional kraal; the thatched roof has the iguana elbow design woven throughout it, a symbol of good fortune. Pillars, fashioned from Leadwood trees, stand at the entrance, supporting the roof, the port-cochère and the intricately carved Rhodesian teak door frame. Chosen for their endurance, they stand unyielding, forever strong.
The Mozambican style of wood carving by master craftsman Matsemela ike Nkoana was introduced as a tribute to Graça Machel’s heritage. The interiors are cool and harmonious, filled with neutral tones and fabrics, quietly elegant, but always with the rich roots of tribal design. The art on the walls is feminine, the key piece is a large canvas of a woman gazing out, her contemplative mood reflecting all she has witnessed. The house is a masterpiece of understatement, warm and welcoming – and a fitting tribute to an exceptional, yet humble, human being.