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Mandela’s old law offices restored

The building where Nelson Mandela opened the first black law practice in South Africa’s largest city was unveiled Wednesday after a $750,000 restoration to turn it into a museum and archive.

Chancellor House, the downtown Johannesburg building where Mandela and partner Oliver Tambo opened their law practice in 1952, had grown dilapidated as decay overtook the city centre in the aftermath of white-minority rule.

But Johannesburg Mayor Amos Masondo on Wednesday showed off the results of a five-million-rand ($750,000, 510,000-euro) restoration by the Johannesburg Development Agency, which plans to turn the renovated building into a museum and archive on Mandela and Tambo’s work.

“If bricks could talk this building would have been replete with colourful stories about the struggles for national liberation,” Masondo said at the unveiling.

He quoted Mandela’s memoir “Long Walk to Freedom” on the role the law office played in Johannesburg’s black community during apartheid.

It was, Mandela wrote, “a place where they could come and find a sympathetic ear and a competent ally, a place where they would not be either turned away or cheated, a place where they might actually feel proud to be represented by men of their own skin colour.”

Mandela, who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and become South Africa’s first black president, and Tambo, who preceded his partner as president of the African National Congress — now the country’s ruling party — opened their practice in 1952 to provide low-cost legal services to blacks.

The firm closed in 1960 as the pair grew their political careers and came under pressure from the apartheid regime.

The building fell into disrepair amid the white exodus and capital flight from central Johannesburg that followed the end of white-minority rule in 1994, but it was provisionally named as a national monument in 1999.