1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Mandela prison key sale condemned by South African minister

December 25, 2021

The key to the Robben Island prison cell is being put up for sale by Nelson Mandela's former jailer. Mandela's oldest daughter approved its sale, but South African officials have objected to the auction.

South African former president Nelson Mandela holding up his right fist
Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years, served as South Africa's president from May 1994 to June 1999Image: TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

A South African minister on Friday urged the cancellation of an upcoming US auction of a key to the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was held.

South Africa's first Black president was jailed for 27 years for his opposition to apartheid.

Mandela died in December 2013, aged 95. He served as South Africa's president from May 1994 to June 1999.

The key is among Mandela memorabilia being sold by the Guernsey 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 the late leader's grave.

The key itself is being sold by Mandela's former jailer, Christo Brand. The jailer later became Mandela's friend.

What did the minister say?

"It is unfathomable for [the auction house] … to consider auctioning the key without any consultation with the South African government," Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said in a statement.

The key to Nelson Mandela's prison cell on an exhibition stand
The key to Nelson Mandela's prison cell will be on auction in New YorkImage: JOR/Capital Pictures/picture alliance

"The 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," Mthethwa added.

Responding to Mthethwa's statement, the auction house said that the proceeds of the sale are to raise funds to build a memorial garden and museum around Mandela's grave.

Mandela's oldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, approached Guernsey to hold the auction to raise the funds.

The key has been in Brand's possession for many years and Mandela's daughter approved its sale.

What other items are on auction?

Other items on auction include Mandela's colorful shirts, gifts from former US presidents, as well as items Mandela had signed and artwork.

Brand is putting two other items up for sale: a draft of South Africa's constitution that Mandela inscribed to him and an exercise bicycle that Mandela had used.

sdi/rs (AP, AFP)