Satyagraha: The House of Gandhi in Joburg

Her love for the simplicity, calm and renovated interiors are what motivated Photographer Marsel Roothman to revisit and shoot guest house and museum Satyagraha. It hides in Orchards, Johannesburg and was once the home of much loved Mahatma Ghandi.

Satyagraha is unique in that it links a guest house and museum; the latter serving as a record of Ghandi’s fascinating life in South Africa. And the original home, referred to as Kraal (given its architecture), is considered to be a South African heritage site!

It’s an earthy, wholesome 7-room space; its vegetarian restaurant too. Throughout, there is a cohesive and comforting mix of colours: black. grey, naturals and white. The somewhat classic, somewhat contemporary décor and furniture were primarily sourced from India. And the architecture, interior design and décor of the modern wing (the lighting fixtures, screed flooring, vintage references) are pretty cool.

Marsel had a one-on-one with the Manager of the House, Mohamed El Selhab.

Your favourite part of Satyagraha?

My favourite is the original part of the house, the Kraal, where Gandhi and Kallenbach (Ghandi’s lifelong friend) stayed. At the front of the house, on either side of the entrance, are two rondavels (round, hut-like structures) which are used as exhibition spaces; these continue into the lounge, comfortably arranged around a large fireplace.

The library (dedicated to the great man) holds spiritual works and books on a range of philosophical movements. Ghandi’s words have been reproduced on large cotton hangings and the most striking quotations appear on concrete plaques in the garden, in the form of Gandhi’s own handwriting.

An invitation to pursue meditation is the garden, filled with age-old trees (several Pride of India trees planted in honour of Gandhi during construction), native plants, natural stones and terracotta pots.

Within these walls, Mahatma created and developed his philosophy of passive resistance: Satyagraha in sanskrit. A pacifist method of protest that he employed in India to lead the country to independence. ~ Satyagraha Team

Besides the guest house & museum, what else can guests experience?

Besides the experience of immersing yourself in the history of the house, we offer yoga and meditation, which is provided by qualified instructors. Book a massage and one of therapists will spoil you in one of our guest rooms. Lunch and dinner are available: meals are vegetarian and no alcohol is served, we keep to Gandhi’s own practices. And should you be interested, we do arrange tours and transfer around Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Tell us more about the house’s renovations?

After extensive restoration, the original bungalow has been turned into a museum dedicated to Gandhi and his philosophy, and the heritage-listed site was converted into a guesthouse. As changes had been made to the house by successive owners, it has been restored to its original state. Rocco Bosman, architect of the house, kept all the additional buildings separate from each other, just as the original rondavels had no interleading doors to the kitchen and dining areas. The contrast between the old and the new is intriguing.

The collaboration between the team curator, Lauren Segal, and interior designers, Christine Puech and Amit Zadok, subtly blurs the boundary between a living space and a museum and allows us to feel the presence of Gandhi though each room or object, a genuine spiritual experience.

There aren’t any original pieces in the house but most of the objects and furniture were sourced in India, inspired by the various places Gandhi lived and especially his native region of Gujarat. Surrounded by reading tables and charkhas (spinning wheels), the visitor is plunged into Gandhi’s world as it was when he lived here.

The acquisition of the house was purely intended to maintain the house as an important historical artefact, one that the public should have access to, rather than being left for destruction or used as a money spinner. ~ Mohamed El Selhab, Manager

From the owners…

We redesigned the whole property in order to respect heritage and to meet all the expectations of the heritage authority. The whole project was as it looks today. One detail changed. The small house at the back, former house of the caretaker had to be destroyed, as it was more a shack than a proper structure.

We wished to create for our staff a comfortable and modern place to rest. The heritage authorities didn’t accept our project at first, because of this shack. We then discovered that this structure was actually one of the last small homes that reflected Johannesburg’s 1920 African architecture. We redesigned the project and kept that shack, renovating the inside totally but keeping intact the outside.

The Satyagraha House, initially an ode to Gandhi’s life in Johannesburg, also, and surprisingly, honoured the African community’s architectural history.

What to expect in 2015/2016

During the 2015/2016 season, there will be more interaction with Johannesburg schools and cultural life (e.g. with local contemporary artists). The restaurant’s meals will also be upgraded in order to achieve our goal of being the best vegetarian place in Johannesburg.

Mainly a property marketed to the international market, 2016 will be dedicated to South Africa and its people. 

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