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Will Mandela's old law offices ever be revamped?

Andrew Harding | 12:11 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

A group of squatters has finally been moved out of Nelson Mandela's old law office in the heart of Johannesburg. The "breakthrough" is being celebrated by the former president's lawyer, George Bizos, and others who have fought for years to restore the historic building and turn it into a resources centre for young lawyers.

George Bizos (left) defended Nelson Mandela (right) during his apartheid struggles

"It's been boarded up," Mr Bizos told me. "I've been told the occupiers have been rehoused. Now I hope it proceeds with deliberate speed." Mr Bizos, 82, who defended Mr Mandela in court during his long struggles against apartheid, is anxious to renovate the building while the two liberation heroes are still around to see it. Earlier this year he showed me round the dark, derelict site.

But there's still one big hurdle ahead. The Essa family who own Chancellor House are reported to be asking for more than the current worth of the property says the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

"It's a basic discrepancy over price," says Lael Bethlehem, the CEO of the JDA.

An independent assessor hired by the JDA says the property is worth 350,000 rand ($46,000; £32,000). "It's in extremely poor condition. There's been a fire in the building; it's been ignored for years. There's serious water damage," says Ms Bethlehem. But the Essa family are reportedly asking for 10 times that sum.

All this is complicated by an old feud between the Essa's lawyer, Ismail Ayob, and Mr Bizos. Mr Ayob used to represent Mr Mandela too. "It didn't end well," says Ms Bethlehem.


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