South African cabinet minister demands to halt auction of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell key

South African cabinet minister Nathi Mthethwa has demanded to stop the auction of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell key.

Mandela, the country’s first Black president, was long jailed for his opposition to apartheid in a prison cell of Robben Island.

Condemning the auction of former South African President, the country’s Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Mthethwa has said ”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 South African government, the heritage authorities in South Africa and Robben Island museum.”

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“This key belongs to the people of South Africa under the care of Robben Island Museum and the South African State. It is not anyone’s personal belonging,” said Mthethwa.

“The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be halted,” he added.

In response, the auction house said the proceeds of the sale are to raise funds to build a 24-acre memorial garden and museum around Mandela’s burial site.

Mandela’s oldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, approached Guernsey’s to hold an auction of Mandela memorabilia to help build the garden, Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s said.

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“We are honored to sell many items from the Mandela family to help them create the garden,” Ettinger said. 

The 33 objects to be auctioned include one of Mandela’s colorful shirts, gifts from former US presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as items that he signed and artwork.

“The key symbolizes the worst and the best of humanity,” said Ettinger. 

“The key locked up Mr. Mandela for his opposition to racial oppression and that was horrendous. The key also freed him and he went from prisoner to president of South Africa and became the inspiration for millions of people around the world. It seems fitting that the sale of the key can now help raise funds to create a memorial around Mr. Mandela’s burial site.”

The key is among Mandela memorabilia being sold by Guernsey’s auction house in New York on January 28. 

Most of the items were provided by members of Mandela’s family to raise funds for a planned museum and garden around his grave.

According to media reports, Mandela’s former prison guard Christo Brand is the seller of the key.

Mandela was elected as first president of democratic South Africa in May 1994 and served in the role until June 1999.  

(With inputs from agencies)

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