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Nelson Mandela. Picture: REUTERS
Nelson Mandela. Picture: REUTERS

Sports‚ arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa has ordered that urgent action be taken after reports of plans to auction the key to the cell in which Nelson Mandela was incarcerated Robben Island.

The sale will be conducted by Guernsey's Auctions which announced the sale will take place online on January 28. The auction house said it would be an unprecedented auction of historic objects relating to the life of Mandela, who became SA's first democratic president.

A report in the Daily Mail reported the key was used by Christo Brand, one of Mandela's jailers, who is also the seller.

Apart from the key‚ other objects included will be his iconic “Madiba” shirt‚ and treasured gifts given to Mandela by Harvard University and former US president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.

“His eyeglasses‚ ceremonial pens he received from President George W Bush and the UN‚ and a powerful bronze cast of his fist are further examples of the historic objects being offered‚” the auction house said.

Mthethwa said the government was considering writing to the auction house to ask it to stop the auctioning of these items.

“It is unfathomable for Guernsey's‚ which is clearly aware of the painful history of our country and the symbolism of the key‚ to consider auctioning the key without any consultation with the SA government‚ the heritage authorities in SA and Robben Island Museum.

“This key belongs to the people of SA under the care of Robben Island Museum and the SA state. It is not anyone’s personal belonging‚” Mthethwa said.

Guernsey's is quoted saying: “What the key symbolises is an extraordinary part of the history not just of SA but the world.”

Mthethwa said this affirmed the view that the auction house should understand the significance of the inappropriateness of its planned auction.

He said because Robben Island is a national monument‚ national museum and a world heritage site‚ the island itself‚ its buildings and objects associated with it form part of its various declarations and have cultural‚ heritage and historical significance.

The key in question‚ therefore‚ has symbolic connotations of struggle‚ deprivation of freedom and the incarceration of those who fought for freedom in.

He said Robben Island Museum has a legal mandate to collect and preserve objects associated with the prison for all the people of SA and the world.

“The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be halted‚” Mthethwa said.

“I am now in discussions with the Robben Island Museum council‚ the minister of justice and correctional services‚ Ronald Lamola‚ and the National Heritage Council to consider appropriate steps that must be taken to stop the auction and to secure the return of the key to SA.”



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