The head of the New York auction house which plans to sell the key to Nelson Mandela’s cell next month tells Page Six he may have found a way to return the key to Africa from South.
But he added that despite South Africa’s objections to the auction as a whole, “the sale is absolutely on”.
As part of a January 28 sale, “Important Artefacts from the Life of Nelson Mandela,” the Guernsey auction house planned to offer the key to the prison cell where Mandela was infamously held at Robben Island, before he eventually became South Africa’s first black man. President.
The planned sale of the key turned into a major controversy last week when a South African minister called for the auction to be canceled and said the key “belongs to the people of South Africa”.
But Guernsey President Arlan Ettinger told us on Tuesday he was working on a solution to appease the South African government – as well as members of Mandela’s family who want to raise money for a memorial garden and a museum around Mandela’s burial site via auction.
Ettinger told us, “We’ve already been contacted by people who think the way we thought”, and that selling the key could be a “wonderful situation for someone to donate for the garden…this offer comes for us as if someone were reading our minds.
He said an anonymous collector had reached out following the controversy to make an offer for the key, and he would then donate the proceeds to the memorial, as well as return the key to South Africa .
An insider told us on Tuesday: “Guernsey has already received at least one offer from a collector willing to make a substantial donation to the [memorial garden] in exchange for handing over the key to South Africa. Ettinger asked South African authorities for a week to sort out the issue and explore options.
The source added: “The January auction will continue with items from Mandela’s family and others, even if an agreement for the return of the key is reached.”
Ettinger told us that the auction house is in the process of reaching “a settlement with the [South African] government to fix this problem”, and that, “with or without the key, the auction will continue”.
He added on Tuesday: “We are doing our best to resolve this issue satisfactorily. It’s a bit premature to say… if [the key] would be in the auction, or someone bids before the auction. But this, “Everyone wants to do the right thing.”
He pointed out that his auction house had previously conducted sales of artifacts from the archives of Malcolm X and Rosa Parks, with buyers including the New York Public Library.
The key is offered via Mandela’s former prison guard, who became his close friend. Former guard Christo Brand has reportedly already agreed that part of the proceeds will go to the memorial garden.
Other lots – sold by the Mandela family – include one of the leader’s colorful and iconic shirts, plus gifts from former US Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as signed artwork and a copy of the South African constitution signed by Mandela.
An exercise bike and tennis racket from Mandela’s imprisonment are also for sale.
South Africa’s Minister for Sport, Arts and Culture, Nathi Mthethwa, previously said in a statement last week that the key was being auctioned: “It is unfathomable for Guernsey, who are clearly aware of the painful history of our country and the symbolism of the key. , to consider selling the key at auction without any consultation with the South African government, heritage authorities in South Africa and the Robben Island Museum.
Mthethwa also said, “The key must be returned to its rightful owners with immediate effect and this auction must be halted”, and added that he was asking the authorities for “appropriate steps which must be taken to stop the sale to auction and to guarantee the return of the key to South Africa.
A representative for the auction house said there was no legal basis to stop the auction, and Ettinger told us, “the sale is absolutely ongoing.”