Durban - The house of the late Struggle activist Fatima Meer, where president Nelson Mandela spent most of his time while hiding from the apartheid government, is for sale.
The house on Burnwood Road in Sydenham provided shelter for many anti-apartheid stalwarts, including Oliver Tambo and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The house first went on sale in 2010 after Meer’s death when her daughters Shamin and Shehnaz sold it to their uncle, Len Anderson.
“The family wanted to get rid off all the sentiments and memories, and all other things that went wrong, and they are living in Cape Town and Johannesburg. None of the grandkids wanted the house so I, as the first cousin, purchased it from the family,” said Anderson.
Humanitarian and businessman Anderson never lived in the house but had people take care of it. He said it had become costly to maintain, especially with rates and taxes.
“This house has got such great historical value, it hurts me to let it go but maybe there are people out there, especially within the city, who would take over and keep it as a historical monument,” said Anderson.
Anderson commissioned eKasi Property Sales & Auctioneering to facilitate the sale and, according to Troy Meyer, the auction will take place in a fortnight.
While the sale is open to anyone, Anderson said he would be happy if the buyer had a political background.
“I am looking for somebody who has some political background, perhaps within the ANC, and also knowing my father and my aunt (Meer’s mom) were from Jewish descendants, maybe they (the Jewish community) would also be interested. This could be a museum. This was her residence from the time she was married until she passed on.”
Those who were close to Meer and understood the historical value of the house said it must be preserved otherwise history would be lost.
Former deputy director of the Institute for Black Research established by Fatima Meer, Ramesh Harcharan, is also of the view that the house should become a museum.
“If somebody else buys that house, they would renovate it and the history would be lost. It would be ideal to pay homage to Fatima, we haven’t done enough to preserve her history. That house has got great history, I understand that when Mandela was released from prison he went there; it’s the same house where Fatima survived assassination, I think there are still visible marks where the bullets hit.”
Long-time neighbours of Meer’s also expressed their disappointment at the sale.
“I have been living here for 54 years. Fatima was already living here when we moved in. She was such great person. We used to see people like Winnie and Mandela coming in and out. Meer’s door was always open to the people. I would prefer the house to be kept as a museum instead of being sold to anyone,” said Mohamed Saib.
Meer’s younger brother Dr Farook Meer said at the time of his sister’s death, there were promises made by government to turn the house into a historical monument.
“I recall when Fatima died, Dr Zweli Mkhize had said the house must be preserved for tourists because of its historical value. There were promises made for that house but I don’t know what happened. They are many dialogues and political activities that took place on Burnwood Road since they bought the house in the 1960s. Even during democracy Fatima continued to live there, she really loved that house,” said Meer.
Head of Parks and Recreation Thembinkosi Ngcobo said the municipality had embarked on a liberation heritage route project whose role was to map and identify sites, houses and buildings that were a part of the Struggle. However, he was not aware of the sale.
“We had identified the houses of Griffiths Mxenge, Mahatma Gandhi, Baleka Mbete, the grave of Isaiah Shembe, so the house of Fatima would have also formed part of this project. It’s very unfortunate that the family had decided to sell it and did not approach us.
“Fatima formed a great part of our history with her role in education and social cohesion. She was an Indian woman but broke down boundaries of race.
“We owe it to her to keep history alive,” said Ngcobo.
Ros Devereux, of the Amafa provincial heritage resources authority, said the house was not protected. She said the organisation was working on permanently protecting sites associated with the Struggle. Any person or group may nominate a site for permanent protection.