All you need to know about ‘anti-Mandela auction’ protests in South Africa

According to the South African government, the personal items of Nelson Mandela that are anticipated to be auctioned in the United States are considered as national heritage.

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First president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela

The South African government is actively working to halt a controversial auction of 70 personal items that were once owned by the revered anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela.

The collection of items set for auction includes significant artefacts such as hearing aids, an ID card, gifts from global leaders, and notable clothing items like Nelson Mandela’s iconic “Madiba” shirts.

However, the South African government asserts that these items rightfully belong to the nation. According to the country’s legislation, items deemed as national heritage are prohibited from being removed from South Africa.

Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest daughter of Nelson Mandela, is the one organising the auction in the United States.

The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), a governmental organisation responsible for safeguarding the nation’s history and culture, has officially appealed to prevent the sale of these items.

The appeal has garnered support from the Ministry of Sport, Arts, and Culture whose minister, Zizi Kodwa emphasised the importance of “maintaining the country’s rich heritage”.

He added that the Mandela items were “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.”

In 2021, the South African government expressed its opposition to the auction upon its initial announcement, citing that certain items slated for sale held national significance. Consequently, the originally scheduled auction for 2022 was cancelled, leading to a two-year legal dispute.

However, last month, the High Court in Pretoria permitted Makaziwe Mandela to proceed with the sale, rejecting the government’s claim that the items were of national heritage.

Zizi Kodwa firmly maintains that the auction should not proceed as, in the same period last month, SAHRA and the Ministry of Culture filed a request to appeal against the judgment, citing the unauthorised export for exhibition or sale of the items.

The auction is scheduled to commence on January 22, although it remains uncertain whether the government’s appeal will successfully halt the proceedings. The items have already been listed for sale by Guernsey’s auction house based in New York. According to the auction house, the hearing aids, for instance, could potentially fetch up to $20,000 (£16,000), while one of the shirts may be sold for as much as $70,000.

The auction has sparked significant controversy in South Africa, with some individuals expressing the view that the government should intervene to prevent the sale of these “priceless” items. On the other hand, some believe that the matter should be left to the discretion of the Mandela family.

Previously, Makaziwe Mandela had expressed her intention to use the proceeds from the auction to create a memorial garden in honour of her father right by his burial site.

However, there has been no response from her, other members of the Mandela family, or the Nelson Mandela Foundation regarding the government’s recent opposition to the auction.

In 1994, Nelson Mandela made history by becoming South Africa’s inaugural democratically elected president. Before this, he had led the African National Congress in its relentless fight against apartheid, a system that enforced racial discrimination through legal means.

Mandela’s unwavering dedication to the cause resulted in his imprisonment for 27 years. He passed away at the age of 95 in 2013, leaving behind a profound legacy.

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