The key to the cell of Nelson Mandela, icon of the fight against apartheid, could be auctioned in January 2022 in Great Britain, according to information published in the British press. “Insupportable”, blasted the South African government on Friday, December 24. The Minister of Sports, Culture and the Arts has “ordered that urgent measures be taken” after having read this information “disturbing”, according to a statement released on Christmas Eve.
This is the key to Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island Penitentiary, where he was locked up for much of his 27 years in prison. It was its jailer, Christo Brand, who allegedly sold it to the British auction house Guernsey’s, details the press release.
“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. South and Robben Island Museum “, denounces Minister Nathi Mthethwa. “This key belongs to the South African people (…) It is not the personal property of anyone”, he adds, hoping the auction house understands “the importance of the untimeness of the planned sale”.
Robben Island is now a national museum and a world heritage site. The objects associated with it thus have “a cultural, heritage and historical significance”, pleads the minister. They recall the fierce struggle of the fighters against the racist apartheid regime “and ultimately our determination, as a nation, to be free.” “The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be discontinued”, insists the minister, affirming to be in contact with the Minister of Justice and the Council of the inheritance to act in this direction.
On the island of Robben Island, which faces the port city of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela’s cell can be visited every day. It’s located in Section B, a bare white hallway overlooking a sun-blinding courtyard, where he had planted a garden that is still alive today.
On its website (where you can see the key to the cell), the British auction house announced the holding of this sale for January 28, specifying that in addition to the key to his cell, will be offered other objects that belonged to Nelson Mandela, such as his “iconic ‘Madiba’ shirt, glasses, pens, a painting or even a bronze cast of his fist.