JOHANNESBURG (AP) – A South African minister on Friday demanded the cancellation of an upcoming U.S. auction of a key to the Robben Island cell where Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, was long jailed for its opposition to apartheid.
The key is part of Mandela’s memorabilia sold by the Guernsey auction house in New York City on January 28. Most of the items were provided by members of Mandela’s family to raise funds for a museum and a garden around his grave, while the key is being sold. by Mandela’s former jailer who became his friend.
“It is unfathomable for Guernsey, which is clearly aware of our country’s painful history and the symbolism of the key, to consider selling the key at auction without any consultation with the South African government, heritage authorities in South Africa and the Robben Island Museum, ”Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement.
“This key belongs to the South African people in the custody of the Robben Island Museum and the South African State. It is not the personal property of anyone, ”Mthethwa said.
In response, the auction house said the proceeds from the sale will be used to raise funds to build a 24-acre memorial garden and museum around Mandela’s burial site. Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah approached Guernsey’s to organize an auction of Mandela memorabilia to help build the garden, Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s, told The Associated Press.
“We are honored to sell many of the Mandela family items to help them create the garden,” Ettinger said. The 33 items up for auction include one of Mandela’s colorful shirts, gifts from former US Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as signed items and illustrations.
The key to his old prison cell is one of three items offered for sale by Christo Brand, Mandela’s jailer on Robben Island.
A draft South Africa constitution that Mandela registered with Brand and an exercise bike used by Mandela were also provided for auction by Brand. The brand’s representative could not be reached for comment on Friday.
The key has been in Brand’s possession for many years and has been on display internationally, Ettinger said. Mandela’s daughter has approved its sale and part of the proceeds will go to the garden fund, he said.
“The key symbolizes the worst and the best of mankind,” Ettinger said. “The key locked up Mr. Mandela for his opposition to racial oppression and it was horrible. The key also freed him and he rose from prisoner to president of South Africa and became the inspiration for millions of people around the world. It seems fitting that the sale of the key can now help raise funds to create a memorial around Mr Mandela’s burial site.
Mthethwa, the Minister of Culture, said he would take action to stop the auction of the key.
“The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be halted,” said Mthethwa who added that he was discussing with the authorities “the appropriate steps that should be taken to stop the auction. and guarantee the return of the key to South Africa.