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Nelson Mandela's Robben Island cell key returning to South Africa – minister

Nelson Mandela revisits the cell at Robben Island prison in 1994

Image source, Corbis via Getty Images

The key to the prison cell on Robben Island once occupied by Nelson Mandela is going to be returned to South Africa rather than be auctioned in the US, a minister says.

The auction had been due to take place in New York on 28 January until South Africa’s Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa objected.

“This key belongs to the people of South Africa,” he said.

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Mandela spent 27 years in prison for campaigning to end white minority rule.

Eighteen of those years were spent on Robben Island, an island off Cape Town.

In 1994, he became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first democratic elections, and he remains a national icon.

Mr Mthethwa said Guernsey’s auction house had agreed to send the key back to South Africa and also to halt the sale of other items that belonged to Mandela.

These included Mandela’s original painting The Lighthouse, Robben Island, as well as the exercise bike he was allowed to use and a prison tennis racquet.

“The key symbolises South Africa’s painful history whilst also representing triumph of the human spirit over evil,” Mr Mthethwa said in a statement..

It had been put up for sale by Christo Brand, Mandela’s former prison guard in the notorious jail. The pair had become good friends.

The auction was to raise funds for a memorial garden and museum around Mandela’s burial site.

Mandela was released from prison in 1990 as South Africa began to move away from strict racial segregation (apartheid).

He served a single term as president, stepping down in 1999.

He died in 2013 aged 95.

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