A candle burns on Sunday in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, three days after he died in Johannesburg at the age of 95. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
A candle burns on Sunday in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, three days after he died in Johannesburg at the age of 95. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The CEO SleepOut appears to have backtracked on plans to allow a wealthy funder to spend a night in former President Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island — an experience that would have cost a minimum of $250‚000‚ or about R3.4m.

Details of the "Robben Island — Room Bid" were no longer displayed on the organisation’s website on Wednesday night, and its CEO, Liane Mcgowan, said in a radio interview that the event had been postponed.

The website described the event as a "once in a life opportunity to sleep in Mandela’s personal Cell Number 7" but by Wednesday night that page had removed.

But the cover image on the CEO SleepOut Facebook page — @TheSleepOutMovement — at 9.15pm on Wednesday still advertised the "Nelson Mandela Legacy SleepOut — Robben Island Edition" to take place on July 18.

Robben Island Museum lashed out at the idea. Spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said the museum was shocked to find out about the auction on the internet.

"It’s completely impossible," she said. "You can’t auction any cell for that matter. We are a World Heritage Site and accountable to Unesco (United Nations Educational‚ Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and it is the heritage of South Africans. Why would we do that to ourselves?"

She said: "Our heritage is not some piece of carrot that can be dangled to people who have their own financial interests in mind."

Ramaboa said The CEO SleepOut had approached the museum earlier this year to find out whether it could host an event to celebrate Madiba’s centenary on the island.

The Robben Island Museum offers private tours and facilities for private events. In a series of e-mails the museum said it needed more details about the event.

"Nowhere did we discuss the auctioning of the cell. That was never part of our discussions."

There was no statement on The CEO SleepOut’s website‚ nor its social media pages‚ on the apparent decision to no longer offer the "Robben Island Edition" of the annual sleepout.

Instead‚ only the link to a positive story on the financial impact of the annual event was tweeted or posted.

Earlier on Wednesday‚ in an interview with Jacaranda FM‚ CEO SleepOut spokesperson Liane Mcgowan defended the plan to auction off a night in Mandela’s cell‚ and at the Robben Island prison.

She said the event had been "postponed" so that the timing would align with another event later in the year.

She said the idea for the concept — which came from an "outside perspective"‚ which she didn’t specify — would raise money to help fund for prisoners who want to further their education.

The money was slated to go to the Prison-to-College Pipeline organisation‚ which runs operations in prisons across the world‚ said Mcgowan.

According to the SleepOut’s website on Wednesday afternoon‚ apart from auctioning off Mandela’s cell it was also hoping to get 66 other people to spend a night on the island. But that‚ too‚ will come at a hefty price: $100‚000‚ which is almost R1.4-million.

The page containing these details was‚ however‚ by Wednesday evening‚ changed and no longer reflected the Robben Island sleepout details. Instead‚ only the details of an event at Lilieslief was available.

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