South Africa trying to block sale of Nelson Mandela items at US auction

Home*Cover Story*International

South Africa trying to block sale of Nelson Mandela items at US auction

South Africa’s government is trying to stop a controversial auction of 70 personal items belonging to anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

They include a set of hearing aids, an ID card, gifts from world leaders and some of the first democratic president’s clothing, such as his statement “Madiba” shirts.

His eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, is auctioning the items in the US.

But the South African government says the items belong to the nation.

Under the country’s law, items considered to be of national heritage cannot be taken out of South Africa.

The South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra), a government body charged with protecting the country’s history and culture, said it had filed an appeal to block the sale.

The appeal has been supported by the sport, arts and culture ministry. Minister Zizi Kodwa said it was was backing the case “for the sake of maintaining the country’s rich heritage”.

He added that blocking the sale was necessary as Mandela “is integral to South Africa’s heritage”.

“It is thus important that we preserve the legacy of former President Mandela and ensure that his life’s work experiences remain in the country for generations to come.”

The government opposed the auction when it was first announced in 2021, arguing that some of the items proposed for sale were national artefacts.

As a result, the initial auction, which had been planned for 2022, was cancelled and a two-year legal battle ensued.

Last month, the High Court in Pretoria finally gave Ms Mandela the go-ahead to sell the items, disputing the government’s argument that they were of national heritage.

Mr Kodwa now says the auction should not proceed as Sahra and the culture ministry last month filed a request to appeal against the judgement, citing “the unpermitted export for exhibition or sale” of the items.

The auction is set to begin on 22 January, but it is unclear if the government’s appeal will halt it.

The items have already been listed for sale by the New York-based Guernsey’s auction house. It says the hearing aids, for example could fetch up to $20,000 (£16,000) and one shirt might sell for up to $70,000.

Ms Mandela has not responded to the government’s latest opposition and neither have other members of the Mandela family or the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

She had earlier said that proceeds from the auction will go towards setting up a memorial garden in Mandela’s honour, near his burial site.

The planned auction has caused a storm in South Africa with some people saying the government should stop the sale of the “priceless” items.

But others believe that the issue should be left to the discretion of Mandela’s family.

Mandela died in 2013 at the age of 95. He led the African National Congress in its struggle against apartheid – a system of legally enforced racism – and spent 27 years in prison.

He became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.