An upcoming auction in the United States of a key to the Robben Island prison cell in Cape Town, where the late Nelson Mandela, the country's first black president and statesman, was long imprisoned for his opposition to apartheid, has been called off by a South African cabinet minister.
The key is among Mandela's artifacts being auctioned in New York on January 28 by Guernsey's auction house. The prison cell’s key is being auctioned by Christo Brand, a former jailer who became Nelson Mandela’s friend.
Nathi Mthethwa, a cabinet minister, said in a statement on Friday that it is unthinkable for Guernsey, which is well aware of our country's sad history and the symbolism of the key, to consider selling it without consulting the South African government, heritage authorities in South Africa, and the Robben Island Museum.
The honorable minister stated that the key belongs to the South African people and should be in the custody of the Robben Island Museum and the South African government. “It isn't someone's personal property."
The Minister went on to say that the auction event should be cancelled immediately and the key should be returned to the country. Minister Mthethwa stated that the necessary steps are already being taken to halt the auction and secure the return of the key to South Africa.
The auction company responded by stating that the revenues from the sale would be used to fund the construction of a memorial garden and museum around Mandela's gravesite.
According to Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's, Mandela's oldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, requested Guernsey's to arrange an auction of Mandela memorabilia to assist in developing the garden.
One of Mandela's colorful shirts, presents from previous US presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as items autographed by Mandela and artwork, are among the 33 items up for auction.
The key has been exhibited globally and it is widely regarded as a symbol that represents humanity's worst and best. The key imprisoned Mr. Mandela for his opposition to racial tyranny, which was horrifying. The key also set him free, and he rose from prisoner to South African president, inspiring millions of people around the world. It seems inappropriate to sell the key.