A New York auction of former South African President Nelson Mandela’s personal items has been canceled by his countrymen, who argue the auction items belong to them.
Yahoo News reports an online auction titled “Important Artifacts From The Life of Nelson Mandela,” scheduled for Jan. 28, was organized by his daughter Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah.
Mandela’s daughter and other family members hoped to start the bidding at $250,000. They wanted to make around $5 million to support a 24-acre memorial garden and museum dedicated to the activists’ life and accomplishments at his burial site.
However, the South African Heritage Resources Agency stated the permits needed for the auction were never filed. Without the permits, the 33 items belonging to Mandela cannot legally be auctioned. That included the key to his Robben Island prison cell, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.
“We had a major controversy come up,” the President of Guernsey’s auction house Arlan Ettinger said, according to the New York Post. Guernsey was contacted by the South African Heritage Resources Agency, he said, which “determined that these items were potential national treasures, and hence when something is designated [as such], it requires permits to leave South Africa.”
South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Arts, and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said the key belongs to the people of South Africa.
“It is unfathomable for Guernsey’s, which is clearly aware of the painful history of our country and the symbolism of the key, to consider auctioning the key without any consultation with the South African government, the heritage authorities in South Africa, and Robben Island Museum,” Mthethwa said according to Yahoo. “This key belongs to the people of South Africa under the care of the Robben Island Museum and the South African State. It is not anyone’s personal belonging.”
The items up for auction included additional items from Mandela’s time in prison, including an exercise bike and a tennis racquet the former president used. The prison items were donated by Christo Brand, a prison guard who later became close friends with Mandela.
Other items included paintings and free-hand drawings Mandela sketched, a bronze cast of his fist, a signed handprint, and several gifts he received from former U.S. Presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Mandela passed away in 2013 at 95. This isn’t the first time a Mandela auction was halted. In 2018, a South African charity offered a chance to spend the night in Mandela’s jail cell, but the auction was canceled due to public outrage.