The key to Nelson Mandela’s cell at auction, an “unbearable” sale for South Africa

Personal Nobel Prize items will be offered by UK auction house Guernsey’s on January 28. Offended, the South African Minister of Culture strongly opposes it.

South Africa is outraged. Several items belonging to the anti-apartheid icon will be auctioned off by British house Guernsey’s on January 28. A sale “insupportableFor the South African Minister of Sports, Culture and the Arts, currently in discussions with the Keeper of the Seals and the South African Heritage Council to put an end to it.

«It was this key that unjustly held Mr. Mandela captive, and it was this key that ultimately led to his freedom and rise to the post of President.»Explains the British auction house on its website. For Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who learned the news in the British press, this is too much: “The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this sale must be discontinued. It is unbearable that Guernsey’s, which is clearly aware of our country’s painful history and the symbolism of the key, is considering auctioning it off without any consultation with the South African government, heritage authorities in South Africa. and the Robben Island Museum»He adds in a press release published on Christmas Eve.

Cultural, heritage and historical significance

But the auction is not limited to this one key. Many other cases will also be put up for sale. These items include: a pair of ceremonial glasses and pens presented by George W. Bush and the United Nations to Nelson Mandela, an impressive cast of its bronze dot and the historic painting of the lighthouse, painted by the Nobel Prize since the room he occupied in Robben Island prison, off Cape Town.

Surprisingly, according to the same statement, the former jailer and friend of Nelson Mandela, Christo Brand, would have supplied the British auction house with things that the former Nobel Prize would have acquired during his long stay in prison. For example, an exercise bike and a tennis racket, or even more precious: a copy of the South African Constitution signed by Nelson Mandela. “It’s a great loss for the country»Confided his friend on December 5, 2013, the day of the announcement of the death, at the age of 95, of the first black South African president.

Illustrated is a photo of Nelson Mandela’s cell. RODGER BOSCH / AFP

More than business, they have a symbolic significance for Nathi Mthethwa, the Minister of Culture, who sees in them a “cultural, heritage and historical significance“. He deplores this information and insists on “The urgent measures that must be takenTo recover this heritage and return it to the prison, which has become a museum since 1997.

Robben Island Prison has become a place of culture and memory since 1997 and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. RODGER BOSCH / AFP

You have to walk along a long, bare and white corridor in section B to find the cell of Nelson Mandela, who bore the registration number 46664. It overlooks a courtyard, where the perennial garden he worked on is still found today. set up during his incarceration, from which we can see the port city of Cape Town. On February 11, 1990 he left Robben Island to take up his post as South African presidency on May 10, 1994. The prison in question became, three years later, a place of worship and memory, and was listed as a heritage site. Unesco World Cup in 1999.

Every day, especially in high season, nearly 2,500 tourists walk the corridors with the sole aim of seeing the cell of the Nobel Peace Prize. Each year, 350,000 visitors come there from the four corners of the world, which would bring to the penitentiary center the colossal budget of 250 million euros. Former detainees have also become guides, in order to participate “to the duty of memory»By Nelson Mandela.


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