Sport, Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, has commended the New York-based auction house Guernsey’s for agreeing to suspend the auction of the key to former President Nelson Mandela’s prison cell at Robben Island from going under the hammer.
According to the department, the key that was scheduled to be auctioned online this month, seven years after Mandela’s death, is part of South Africa’s national estate in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA).
The key was used by Mandela’s jailer, Christo Brand, who became his jailer at the age of 18, and went on to become his friend. The former ANC leader, who was released in 1990, remained friends with Brand, 61, until his (Mandela’s) death in 2013 aged 95.
Guernsey’s had put a reserve price of nearly £200,000 on the key, but the firm’s Arlan Ettinger said it could fetch more than £1 million.
Ettinger said: “The idea that an ordinary key worth pennies should be so important is extraordinary. But it represents the best and worst of humanity – Mandela was imprisoned unjustly for 27 years and his first jailer was an 18-year-old boy in his first job.”
The Arts and Culture Department said: “The key symbolises South Africa’s painful history whilst also representing the triumph of the human spirit over evil. This key is living proof of South Africans’ long walk to freedom and belongs to the people of South Africa. It, therefore, must rightfully be returned to the country.”
According to the department, Guernsey’s has undertaken to arrange for the key to be returned to the country after consultations with relevant South African authorities.
“Guernsey’s have also agreed to halt the sale of various other items which belonged to President Nelson Mandela. The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) believes that such items also form part of the national estate. SAHRA has been communicating with Guernsey’s on the key and other items that belonged to President Nelson Mandela.”
In addition, the department said Mthethwa is of the view that SAHRA must engage the Mandela family and Nelson Mandela Foundation to establish whether all other items intended for auctioning form part of the national estate.
According to Hyperallergic, an American online arts magazine, “Of the 33 lots on offer, over a third are gifts or awards bestowed upon the celebrated activist, including a quilt from Barack and Michelle Obama, a book of Fernanda Pessoa sonnets from Agostinho Pereira de Miranda, and a commemorative pewter bowl from Harvard University”.
The department said the successful conclusion to the intended auction was enabled through an interdepartmental team with relevant agencies. These include the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, Department of International Relations and Cooperation and Department of Justice and Correctional Services as well the SAHRA, Robben Island Museum, Office of the Solicitor General and Office of the Chief State Law Advisors. – SAnews.gov.za