The key to Nelson Mandela’s prison cell at Robben Island will no longer be auctioned, and will be returned to South Africa.
This is according to Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who said the key is considered state property in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act.
Mthethwa also commended the United States-based Guernseys Auction House for agreeing to suspend its auction, which was set to take place on 23 January.
“The key symbolises South Africa’s painful history whilst also representing triumph of the human spirit over evil. This key is living proof of South Africans’ long walk to freedom and belongs to the people of South Africa. It therefore must rightfully be returned to the country,” said Mthethwa.
Most of the Mandela memorabilia that was set to be auctioned was provided by members of the former president’s family. They were reportedly hoping to raise funds for a planned museum and garden around his grave.
Christo Brand, Mandela’s Robben Island jailer, on Thursday said he donated the prison key to help raise money for the Mandela Memorial Garden in Qunu. He said he was told about it by Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe.
“In 1981 one of the keys we used in the prison broke and was scrapped. I kept it with all my other personal belongings and forgot about it until 2018 when I was asked to lend some items to the official Nelson Mandela exhibition which would be traveling the world. I then found the key which was still in two pieces. I arranged for it be welded together and lent it to the exhibition,” said Brand.
He said he had originally donated the key to the Mandela exhibition, which the former president’s grandson Mandla was involved with.
After the planned sale of the key triggered public outcry in South Africa, Brand said he asked Guernseys to withdraw it from the auction and leave it on display in the exhibition.
Mthethwa said Guernseys had also agreed to halt the sale of other items which belonged to Mandela. These reportedly included a draft of South Africa’s constitution that Mandela inscribed to Brand and an exercise bicycle Mandela used.
“The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) believes that such items also form part of the national estate,” said Mthethwa.
“SAHRA must engage the Mandela family and Nelson Mandela Foundation with a view to establishing whether all other items intended for auctioning form part of the national estate,” he said.