Mandela’s retreat


The Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation, where the former South African president entertained heavyweight global leaders including Bill Clinton, has opened to travellers as a tranquil luxury destination

Where better for calm reflection than a site where one of the most revered figures in modern history sought it? The Shambala Private Game Reserve – an unspoilt 30,000-acre expanse packed with diverse wildlife and nestling in the South African bush – certainly lives up to its name (‘Shambala’ being a Tibetan word meaning ‘Paradise on Earth’).

In 2001, Shambala’s owner – Nelson Mandela’s close friend, insurance tycoon Douw Steyn – opened a retreat for the president after inviting him to take refuge on his estate in the Waterberg Mountains, about three hours north of Johannesburg by car.

Open to the public as of last month, the Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation was where Mandela entertained heavyweight global leaders (Bill Clinton among them), but mainly rested and recuperated. “Shambala not only created the perfect setting for him to write, but also much-needed peace and quiet time,” writes his former private secretary, Zelda la Grange, in her book, Good Morning, Mr Mandela. “Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) often said that he missed prison… in prison he had time to read and time to think.”

Now available for groups and families to rent, the residence has an indoor heated pool overlooking a waterhole, a vast outdoor deck and lounge area, a formal sitting room, a boardroom, a presidential suite and five luxury bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. An authentically African feel prevails throughout, from the circular ‘kraal’ enclosure fencing to the thatched roof, traditional woven designs, leadwood tree pillars and carved Rhodesian teak door frames.

Spotlit nocturnal game drives, bush walks and cruises are all on offer, but the serene atmosphere is more conducive to rumination than activity. “The peace, tranquillity and natural harmony of Shambala serves to remind us of our own striving for reconciliation and togetherness,” as the great man himself put it.

See more of the Nelson Mandela Centre for Reconciliation at


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About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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