The key to the Robben Island prison cell, where former South Africa resident Nelson Mandela was held which had been has been pulled from a scheduled auction following a review request by South African Heritage Resource Agency.
U.S. auction house, Guernsey who said it also has in its possession other Mandela memorabilia including an iconic “Madiba” shirt, eyeglasses and ceremonial pens up for auction, said that a South Africa government agency called for the auction to be stopped not because it believed anything had been stolen, but because items had “left South Africa without necessary permits.”
South Africa’s minister of arts and culture, Nathi Mthetha, while applauding the auction’s suspension said “the key symbolizes South Africa’s painful history whilst also representing triumph of the human spirit over evil.”
“The 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.”
Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his opposition to apartheid, 18 of those years was spent at Robben island. On his release, Mandela went on to serve as South Africa’s first Black president from May 1994 to June 1999. He died in December 2013, aged 95.
Mandela’s former prison guard Christo Brand, who had struck up a friendship with the anti-apartheid icon, had been in possession of the key since the 1980s.
The auction house said that proceeds from the sale were to be used to build a memorial garden and museum around the late leader’s grave.
“I know this is upsetting to the Mandela family, it’s upsetting to us, but … [South African authorities] are doing what they think is best, we just disagree with them.” Guernsey’s founder Arlan Ettinger said.