Robben Island. Picture: REUTERS
Robben Island. Picture: REUTERS

The trustees of The CEO SleepOut Trust initiative says discussions for more than a year preceded its attempt to auction a night in Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island.

The bid would allow a wealthy funder to spend a night in Madiba’s prison cell on Robben Island at a minimum cost of $250‚000 (about R3.4m).

The Robben Island Museum this week joined in criticism of the auction‚ saying it was shocked to hear of it. The Nelson Mandela Foundation also distanced itself from it.

In a statement‚ the CEO SleepOut said it had not intended any offence. The trustees extended their "sincere apologies if they have offended anyone in their quest to raise funds for worthy causes‚ as this is certainly not its intent".

The initiative was not unauthorised‚ the trustees stated.

"The CEO SleepOut Trust has been in ongoing discussions with Robben Island since early 2017 regarding the 2018 event," they said.

"In March 2018, The CEO SleepOut Trustees visited Robben Island to meet the Robben Island board. At this meeting all of the campaigns relating to the 2018 Robben Island event were mutually strategised and subsequently agreed upon which included the following main elements:

"The CEO SleepOut Project was given access to all the maximum-security jail cells for the event. It included the use of the maximum-security courtyard as well as Nelson Mandela’s cell (number seven). The auction of cell number seven was agreed upon.

"The CEO SleepOut Project was given exclusive use of the required infrastructure at Robben Island to see the event come to fruition‚ including the exclusive use of the Robben Island ferries after the last public ferry at 2pm on July 18: access to their vehicles on the island; access to their tour guides‚ who are all former prisoners; access to water and electricity; access to the lime quarry and a night tour of the island."

Furthermore‚ at the 2018 SleepOut Movement launch in May 2018‚ the campaigns — including the Robben Island edition — were presented at the ANC-affiliated Chancellor House. The launch was attended by "the Robben Island appointed spokesperson"‚ the trustees said‚ "in addition to all involved stakeholders‚ spokespersons and beneficiaries".

While it is unclear if the event is going ahead‚ the trustees emphasised their goal was to raise funds for deserving causes.

The beneficiary of the Robben island number seven cell auction was the Prison-to-College Pipeline Project‚ developed through a partnership between Stellenbosch University and the Department of Correctional Services, as well as Western Cape community organisations‚ with the aim of integrating prisoners back into their communities.

"The funds raised through the auction of his cell were to go directly to benefiting prisoners in SA and assisting with their re-integration into society."

During its three years in SA‚ the trustees said The SleepOut Movement had raised almost R53m for philanthropy.