The South African government has condemned an upcoming auction in the United States of the key that kept former South African President Nelson Mandela locked behind bars for nearly 20 years.
New York-based auction house Guernsey’s is hosting an online-only auction next month that will see the sale of a number of items that were of significant importance during Mandela’s life.
And the key that kept Mandela behind bars on Robben Island is expected to fetch over £ 1million when sold.
But today, the South African Minister for Sports, Arts and Culture spoke out against the auction.
Key comes from Robben Island prison near Cape Town where anti-apartheid activist was held by white authorities
Nathi Mthethwa, 54, said: “It is unfathomable for Guernsey, which is clearly aware of our country’s painful history and the symbolism of the key, to consider selling the key at auction without any consultation with the government. South African Heritage Authorities in South Africa and Robben Island Museum.
“This key belongs to the South African people in the custody of the Robben Island Museum and the South African State. It is not the personal property of anyone.
Mthethwa added: “The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be stopped.
“I am currently in talks with the Robben Island Museum Council, Justice and Corrections Minister Ronald Lamola and the National Heritage Council to review the appropriate steps that need to be taken to stop the auction and ensure the return of the key to South Africa. ‘
The statement also states that the Robben Island Museum has a legal mandate to collect and preserve the artefacts associated with the prison for the people of South Africa.
MailOnline has contacted Guernsey’s and Christo Brand for further comment.
The key comes from Robben Island prison near Cape Town where the anti-apartheid activist was held by white authorities.
It was used by jailer Christo Brand, who became his friend, and who now sells the small metal key more than seven years after Mandela’s death.
In 1964, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 46, first on Robben Island where he was held for 18 years.
The two forged a bond of friendship that continued until Mandela’s death in 2013 at the age of 95 and now the key is being auctioned off at a sale in New York next week. .
New York-based Guernsey-based auction house founder and chairman Arlan Ettinger said today: “The idea that an ordinary key worth a few pennies should be so important is extraordinary. But this represents the best and the worst of humanity – Mandela was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years and his first jailer was an 18-year-old boy in his first job.
“The warden who was in charge of some of the world’s most dangerous prisoners discovered Mandela to be a gentle, kind and caring man and the couple became good friends – a friendship that lasted for the rest of Mandela’s life – from prison to the presidency.
“What this key symbolizes is an extraordinary part of the history not only of South Africa but of the world.”
The auction house has set aside a reserve of $ 250,000 (£ 186,000) but Mr Ettinger says it could well fetch over a million pounds.
But today, a representative for Brand said that no reserve price has been set.
He added: “We really hope it isn’t bought by a collector who just wants to own it – it’s such a symbolic key that everyone should be able to see it.”
Mandela gave his famous “Pier Speech” while facing the death penalty on April 20, 1964 – and he ended his speech by saying: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against domination. I cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
“It’s an ideal that I hope to live and achieve. But if necessary, it is an ideal for which I am ready to die ‘- words which symbolized his long-standing dedication to the struggle for equality, as well as the eradication of the South African racist system of ‘apartheid.
The key was used by the jailer, Christo Brand, who befriended Mandela and now sells the small metal key more than seven years after Mandela’s death.
Years of unjust imprisonment and a Nobel Peace Prize later, Nelson Mandela first voted in 1994 and in the same year he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his first 27 years in captivity on the infamous Robben Island, but even from inside the prison known for its brutal treatment and inhumane living conditions, Mandela continued to assist in his reforms to the ‘outside.
Detainees were only allowed to write and send two letters per year, but with the help of fellow inmates and visitors, Mandela managed to smuggle statements and letters that continued his anti-apartheid movement. .
Even while incarcerated, Mandela fought for the rights of detainees and better treatment and as a result of his reforms, he was offered a tennis racket and an exercise bike. Both are also on sale.
The key was used by jailer Christo Brand (pictured with Mandela in 1998), who became his friend and now sells the small metal key more than seven years after Mandela’s death.
NELSON MANDELA: THE ANTI-APARTHEID FIGHTER WHO WENT TO JAIL FOR THE CAUSE
1960: 69 peaceful demonstrators are killed by police during the Sharpeville massacre; in the process, the ANC is banned, prompting Mandela to go into hiding. While in hiding, he forms an underground military group with the armed resistance
1962: After living on the run for seventeen months, he was arrested on August 5 and imprisoned at Fort Johannesburg. On October 25, he was sentenced to five years in prison but on the run again
1964: On June 12, Mandela was captured and convicted of sabotage and treason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 46, initially on Robben Island where he would be held for 18 years.
1968: His mother dies and his oldest son is killed in a car crash, but he is not allowed to attend any of the funerals
1980: Exile Oliver Tambo launches international campaign for the release of his friend
1986: Sanctions against South Africa are stepped up, costing millions of dollars in revenue
1990 : On February 11, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. He had served the last part of his sentence at Victor Verster prison in Paarl.
President De Klerk lifts the ban on the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC and the White National Party begin talks on forming a multiracial democracy for South Africa.
1991: Mandela becomes president of the ANC. The International Olympic Committee lifts the 21-year ban on South African athletes from participating in the Olympics.
1992: He separates from Winnie Mandela after she is convicted of kidnapping and aiding and abetting assault. In the following March, they divorced.
1993: Nelson Mandela and M. de Klerk receive the Nobel Peace Prize
1994: April 26 Free elections where black South Africans are allowed to vote for the first time. Nelson Mandela runs for president and ANC wins 252 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly
In May, Mandela was invested as the first black president of South Africa. He appoints de Klerk as vice president and forms the racially mixed national unity government.
1995: South Africa hosts the 1995 Rugby World Cup and South Africa wins. Nelson Mandela wears a Springbok shirt when he presents the trophy to Afrikaner captain François Pienaar. This gesture was seen as a major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
1998: Wife Graca Machel, widow of the former President of Mozambique, on her 80th birthday.
1999: Relinquishes the presidency in favor of Thabo Mbeki, who was appointed ANC president in 1997.
2001: Nelson Mandela was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer
2004 : Nelson Mandela announced he would step down from public life at the age of 85
2005: His son Makgatho Mandela died of AIDS
2010: Mandela makes rare public appearance at FIFA World Cup in South Africa
2012: The increasingly fragile Mandela was hospitalized twice in February and December
2013: In December, Mandela died at the age of 95 from a respiratory problem. A 10-day national period of mourning has been observed across South Africa following his death