Madiba visits 'treasured' home
Former president Nelson Mandela on Wednesday returned to the house in Alexandra where he once rented a room, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a statement.

Mandela had rented a back yard room at the house as a young man in 1941, the foundation said.

The house was owned by the late John Madzeka Xhoma and his wife Harriet, of Cradock in the Eastern Cape. This was Mandela's second home since his arrival in Johannesburg as he had briefly lodged with Reverend J Mabutho.

Present during his visit were Xhoma's three grand-daughters, Gladys Xhoma (who still lives in the house), Nozipho Mabuya and Zodwa Tlale, as well as Gladys' daughters, Nomalizo and Nomathemba.

"He's our father. He's a living saint," the foundation quoted Tlale as saying.

Tlale, a Catholic, said she could only compare the experience with having met the pope.

Gladys, now 73, was aged five when Madiba lived there and he used to send her to the shops on errands. She last saw him in 1953 when she went to his law firm in Johannesburg, seeking legal advice.

Nomalizo, 37, an environmental educator, previously met Mandela when he visited the house in 2003.

Xhoma, who ran a transport business and owned two other properties, died in 1952 and his wife died in 1971.

Mandela, while staying at the house, worked as an articled clerk with attorneys Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman while completing his BA at Unisa.

"There he earned two pounds a month and paid 13 shillings and four pence for the room.

"He welcomed sharing Sunday lunches with the family in the main house," the foundation said.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom Mandela wrote:

"Alexandra occupies a treasured place in my heart. It was the first place I lived away from home."

Referring to his time at the house he wrote: "In order to make ends meet, Mr Xhoma, like so many other residents of Alexandra, rented rooms to boarders. He had built a tin-roofed room at the back of his property, no more than a shack, with a dirt floor, no heat, no electricity, no running water. But it was a place of my own and I was happy to have it."

This article was originally published on page 5 of Pretoria News on May 28, 2009