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Chancellor House empty after R10m renovation

Three-story historical building in disrepair

Koena Mashale Journalist
Chancellor House,nwhich used to house Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo’s law firm in Johanne sburg CBD.
Chancellor House,nwhich used to house Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo’s law firm in Johanne sburg CBD.

The City of Johannesburg says plans are under way to fast-track the occupation of the three-story building that once housed Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo’s law firm.

In 2011, the city spent R10m on extensive restorations and turned the building into a heritage site after years of decay and neglect, but the building remained unoccupied for years and will fall into decay again.

City spokesperson Nthatisi Modingoane said through its property company, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), is committed to protecting the building named Chancellor House and completing the necessary work for its re-use. 

“Urgent measures are being taken to secure the property including enhanced security and clearing the surrounding area of potential occupiers. Consultations with the directorate of arts, culture and heritage will guide the re-use of Chancellor House, respecting its historical importance and significance to all South Africans,” said Modingoane.

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation said the progress on finding use for the building was long overdue. 

“This is a profound failure on the part of the JDA as any heritage site that is not put into productive use is bound to decay. We find it very surprising that the JDA, which is entrusted with the care of this site, has not been able to find a suitable tenant in over a decade — especially considering the convenient location across from the busy magistrate’s court,” said David Fleminger, chairperson at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. 

Fleminger said the foundation fears the building may become another victim of invasion. 

“We further note with great concern that an ever-growing contingent of homeless people has begun to camp out along the pavement outside Chancellor House — both day and night. While we do not wish to demonise or dismiss the plight of the homeless, the reality is that the public can no longer enjoy safe access to the site.”

Modingoane said they were aware of the risks Chancellor House may become victim to. 

“Chancellor House stands as a symbol of resilience and determination in the face of oppression, and its preservation and re-use will ensure that its legacy continues to inspire future generations.”  

Sowetan recently visited the site, opposite the magistrate's court on Fox Street. The building showed no sign of visitation or upkeep. The first floor is empty with only the history plaques and boards lined up against the windows showcasing the building’s history. One of the glass plaques was shattered, leaving the information on the board vulnerable. 

One of the windows was damaged with cracks. The lights and security camera wiring has been tampered with and cables were hanging loose.

A mechanic who works at an auto shop across the street from the heritage site said no-one has been to the site to check on it since he started working at the shop. 

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