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South Africa seeks to halt auction of Mandela’s personal items

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(LONDON) — South Africa has announced it is set to challenge a New York auction of dozens artifacts and personal items belonging to former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

The New York auction — set for Feb. 22 — comes following a deal between Guernsey’s Auction House in New York and Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe Mandela, and is estimated at a collective value of between $2 to $3 million.

“Nearly one hundred treasured items – objects that in one way or another played a role in “Madiba’s” life – will be presented at unreserved auction,” said Guernsey’s Auction House. “Never offered before, these objects are coming directly from the Mandela family.”

Among the items set to go on sale in February are Mandela’s 1993 South African Identification book, Mandela’s famous Green Fern-Patterned “Madiba” shirt, his iconic aviator sunglasses, a gifted blanket from former U.S. President Barack Obama, sculptures, and personal letters written by Mandela, among many others with the proceeds set to go to the construction of the Mandela Memorial Garden surrounding his final resting place.

“It is my wish that before I close my eyes on nature, I will honor my father with a memorial garden,” said Makaziwe Mandela in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s what my father would want.”

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“I want other people in the world to have a piece of Nelson Mandela — and to remind them, especially in the current situation, of compassion, of kindness, of forgiveness,” she said.

However, the controversial auction has been met with mixed reactions and sparked much debate in South Africa, with many taking to social media to question why the items are being sold.

South Africa’s Heritage, and Resource Agency (SAHRA) announced it has lodged an application before the high court to halt the sale of the objects, citing concerns over the “preservation of heritage objects in South Africa.”

A similar auction had been initially scheduled for 2022 but suspended following a two-year legal battle.

In a statement sent to ABC News, SAHRA says it respects the High Court’s judgement to permit the sale of items associated with Nelson Mandela. However, it also emphasized that the auction raises “significant concerns” and “requires careful consideration due to the historical and cultural importance of the items at risk of sale.”

“SAHRA, the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, and the Robben Island Museum, are urgently assessing the lawfulness and implications of the impending auction … This is not only to protect and promote a commitment to conserving South Africa’s rich cultural heritage but also to contributing to the global discourse on responsible cultural heritage stewardship,” it said.

In a statement, South Africa’s Ministry of Culture says it echoes concerns raised by SAHRA.

“Former President Nelson Mandela is integral to South Africa’s heritage. His life, experiences and legacy live in our consciousness and in the values we promote as a country,” said Zizi Kodwa, minister of Sports, Arts and Culture. “It is thus important that we preserve the legacy of former President Mandela and ensure that his life’s work and experiences remain in the country for generations to come.”

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