The planned auction of the key to the prison cell where South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela once stood has been suspended, auctioneers said on Friday.
The key to the Robben Island prison cell, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, had been put under hammer by the American auction house in Guernsey on January 28.
Guernsey’s announced on its website that the auction has been postponed until further notice “pending review” by the South African Heritage Resource Agency.
The government agency called for the auction to be stopped “not because they thought something had been stolen but that things had left South Africa without the necessary permissions,” he told the AFP the President of Guernsey, Arlan Ettinger.
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa praised the auction house for agreeing to suspend the auction.
In a statement, the ministry said that “the key symbolizes South Africa’s painful history while also representing the triumph of the human spirit over evil.
“This key is living proof of the long march of South Africans to freedom and belongs to the South African people. It must therefore legitimately be returned to the country.”
The key was one of the items up for auction, from an assortment that included an iconic “Madiba” shirt, glasses and ceremonial pens.
The proceeds were to be used to build the Mandela Memorial Garden in his hometown where his remains are buried.
Ettinger said his company was approached by one of Mandela’s daughters to auction off the paraphernalia, including the key.
Mandela’s former prison guard Christo Brand, who forged an unlikely and lasting friendship with the anti-apartheid icon, had held the key since the 1980s.
It was broken and he “sent it back to the authorities on the mainland, … but it was returned to him, and he put it in a drawer and was there for 30 years until he be contacted by a museum that has been putting together things relating to Mandela, ”Ettinger said, praising Brand for being“ very generous in relinquishing this possession to help build the garden ”.
The auctioneers said they complied with the government’s decision.
“I know it’s upsetting for the Mandela family, it’s upsetting for us, but (…) they (the government) are doing what they think is best, we just don’t agree with them, ”he said.
AFP could not get an immediate response from the Mandela family.
Mandela was elected the first president of democratic South Africa in May 1994 and held this post until June 1999.
He died at the age of 95 in December 2013.