The Soweto Heritage Trust was formed in July 1997, with President Nelson Mandela as its Founder. Its principal objects were wide-ranging, including the establishment of a cultural precinct in and around Orlando West, Soweto, and an overall promotion of Soweto and Johannesburg, in the context of identity, pride, public awareness, the encouragement of tourism and economic upliftment.

In its initial years the Trust was indeed actively involved in these broad activities, working together with the metropolitan and provincial authorities, and, over time, focused on two main projects, namely the Hector Pieterson Memorial, and Mandela House, both in the Orlando West precinct. During this period, the national, provincial and metropolitan authorities, together with the private sector, assumed the leading role in the broader role of promoting Soweto.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial was formally launched in 2002, and since then has been successfully run under the auspices of the Johannesburg Metropolitan municipality.

Mandela House continued to operate under the care of the Trust, and attracted tens of thousands of visitors to Soweto. Despite this success, and following feedback from many visitors to the house, the Trust decided in 2007 that Mandela House needed serious attention. Among the concerns were the physical condition of the house and its contents, the lack of any visitor facilities, the lack of training of the guides and, most important, the lack of a consistent message that visitors were taking away from the house. This was exacerbated by the lack of formally researched exhibition content and displays.

With a view to remedying these shortcomings, the Trust decided to change its strategy, to focus its activities on Mandela House. Accordingly, in June 2008 the principal object of the Trust Deed was amended (as discussed below) to reflect this focus on the Mandela House, and to stress the objective of informing visitors of President Nelson Mandela’s story, both in the context of his home, and in the context of his life as a whole, in a manner that would promote his legacy of human rights, democracy, reconciliation, mutual respect and tolerance amongst the peoples of South Africa.

In order to facilitate this, a new Visitor Centre was commissioned, restoration work was authorised, a highly-qualified curator was appointed, and re-training of staff was scheduled. Construction work commenced on 18 July 2008, to commemorate the 90th birthday of Nelson Mandela . To finance this new direction, existing funds were used initially, and a fund-raising campaign was launched in the latter half of 2008.

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