Overgrown lawns, soaring utility bills: Madiba home decays into ghost house
Nelson Mandela's once-elegant Houghton home in Johannesburg - which hosted some of the world's leading figures while the former president was alive - is now an abandoned eyesore.
The electric gate is seemingly broken, portions of the roof fascia are missing or collapsing, the tennis court is crumbling and the tiled roof of one of the outbuildings is sagging.
The once-manicured pavement garden - where well-wishers placed stones painted with messages of hope shortly before Madiba's death in 2013 - is now overgrown and littered with rubbish.
The house in 12th Avenue was until last year occupied by Mandela's grandchildren, Ndaba, Mbuso and Andile, who are the sons of the late Makgatho Mandela. Makgatho was Madiba's son by his first wife, Evelyn.
The three brothers lived in the house after Mandela's death, but Ndaba said they moved out after the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (NRM) Family Trust stopped paying the utility bills.
The house is owned by Mandela's company, Iterele Investments. On his death, Iterele and the house vested in his estate under the control of the executors, who include former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke.
Mandela bequeathed the shares in Iterele, and therefore the house, to the trust. However, the estate has yet to effect this transfer.
When the Sunday Times team visited the house this week, a man who opened the gate said it was being sold. "I have come to help Mandela's grandsons ... We have put furniture in storerooms. From last week people have been to see the house."
Ndaba Mandela this week accused Moseneke and advocate Wim Trengove, a trustee of the NRM Family Trust, of displacing him and his brothers by failing to pay the municipal bills.
He alleged they wanted to sell the house.
Moseneke and Trengove dismissed the allegations, saying the trust stopped paying the bills after they suddenly more than tripled to about R50,000 a month.
Mandela's will stipulated that he wanted Makgatho and his children to have use of the house "in perpetuity".
"The trustees shall ... pay all assessment rates and other municipal charges and fees in respect of the Houghton property ... and maintain the Houghton property in good order and condition."
Ndaba said the trustees "decided not to pay for lights in order to kick us out", and it was the trust's fault that the house was now an eyesore.
"Moseneke brought people to the house without telling the family so they could do an evaluation. The house is worth between R10m and R15m," Ndaba said.
He said while the majority of the family had voted to sell the house, "I was one of the few who voted not to."
Ndaba said he had himself contributed to the house's upkeep. "It belongs in the family. I will fight for it, with everything that I have."
Mbuso Mandela failed to respond to questions sent via WhatsApp, and Andile could not be contacted.
Machel and Sello Hatang, CEO of the NMF, referred questions to Moseneke, who said he had performed his duties "lawfully, honestly and to the best of my ability, properly assisted by two reputable law firms who manage the day-to-day affairs of the deceased estate".
"I have [alerted] the law firms to these manifold bizarre imputations. I have served as executor at no remuneration. I deny any act of impropriety. I will not respond to baseless accusations."
Trengove said there was not a shred of truth to Ndaba's accusations. He said the estate, under the control of the executors, was the formal owner of the house.
Trengove said the trust had no legal responsibility to do so but had contributed towards the house's upkeep and municipal bills because the family "implored the trust to help. [That help] has, since March 2017, come to R1.4m."
He said the trust stopped paying the bills because they "shot up from about R15,000 per month to about R50,000 per month without any explanation".
"We resumed payment, and paid all the arrears, when the bills came down again to their former level.
"We stopped paying because we felt that we could not spend R50,000 per month of the trust's money, for which it had no liability, without any explanation for the inordinately high bills."
He said an "overwhelming" majority of Mandela family members had agreed the house should be sold "if and when" it is transferred to the trust.
Ndaba said the bills had shot up due to a leak, which was repaired at his cost.
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