The South African minister of sports, arts and culture has called on Guernsey’s Auction to not go ahead with the sale of the key to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell, saying that it “belongs to the people of South Africa.”
New-York based Guernsey’s auction house earlier announced that on January 28, it will conduct an “unprecedented auction” of objects relating to South Africa’s first black president, with few items able to rival the importance of Mandela’s Robben Island cell key.
“It was this Key that unjustly held Mr. Mandela captive, and it was this Key that ultimately led to his freedom and ascendancy to the office of President. And with Mandela’s rise, so rose the hopes and dreams of countless millions around the world,” Guernsey’s said.
In response to the auction house’s announcement, South African Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa issued a statement on Friday, saying it is “unfathomable” for Guernsey’s, considering the country’s “painful history,” to put it up for sale without consulting with the South African authorities or Robben Island Museum.
“This key belongs to the people of South Africa under the care of Robben Island Museum and the South African State. It is not anyone’s personal belonging,” Mthethwa said, as quoted by the media.
The minister added that the government was considering writing to the auction house to ask it to cancel the sale.
Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s, responded, telling AP that the proceeds of the sale will go towards building a memorial garden and museum near Mandela’s burial site in the village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape province. It was the former president’s oldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, who approached Guernsey’s to conduct the sale of her father’s memorabilia. The key is one of three items offered by Christo Brand, Mandela’s jailer, who eventually became his close friend.
In total, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, including 18 years on Robben Island, prior to the fall of the apartheid regime, which Mandela fought against throughout his life. Besides the key, Guernsey’s is offering Mandela’s iconic Madiba shirt and his eyeglasses, along with gifts from US Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Image Credit: guernseys.com