Ten years after the passing of Nelson Mandela, a sale of his belongings is once again causing controversy. The New York-based auction house Guernsey’s is set to auction a series of items on February 22, as decided by Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest daughter of the former head of state. However, the South African government disagrees, asserting that these possessions belong to the nation.
The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), the government agency responsible for protecting South Africa’s heritage, has been engaged in a legal battle for nearly two years, seeking to annul such a sale. The dispute initially arose when the auction of a key from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island was proposed. Ultimately, the court sided with Makaziwe Mandela at the end of last year, thereby permitting the organization of this new event.
While the key is no longer part of the auction, 70 items, including shirts worn by the former leader, one of his identity cards, and even an old hearing aid, are now up for bidding. These historical pieces are deemed by the South African government to be part of the country’s heritage. They intend to appeal the court’s decision to “preserve the legacy of former President Mandela and ensure that his work and experiences are retained in the country for future generations.”
Contrary to the government’s stance, the organizers argue that the proceeds from the auction will fund a memorial garden near the anti-apartheid icon’s grave in his native Eastern Cape region. The auction thus raises broader questions about the balance between preserving historical artifacts and utilizing their sale proceeds for meaningful commemorative projects associated with Mandela’s legacy.