Auction of Mandela Items Is Halted During South Africa Court Fight

The New York auction house that was planning to sell several dozen of Nelson Mandela’s personal belongings next month suspended the event after a South African government agency filed court papers seeking to force the return of the items.

On Monday, the website that had displayed the items, including Mr. Mandela’s colorful “Madiba” shirts and his hearing aids, was updated with a banner of text across a triumphant photo of Mr. Mandela: “THIS AUCTION HAS BEEN SUSPENDED.”

The auction by Guernsey’s had been scheduled for Feb. 22.

Arlan Ettinger, the president of Guernsey’s, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had become aware of a “difficult path that lay ahead were it to proceed with the auction.”

“The Nelson Mandela auction was to have been a special event,” he said. “We are saddened that that opportunity now may be lost.”

This is the second time in three years that an attempt to bring Mr. Mandela’s items to auction has been scrapped.

Mr. Mandela’s eldest daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, has been trying to sell her father’s shirts, the gifts he received from U.S. presidents and many other items to help finance a memorial garden.

But the South African Heritage Resources Agency went to court to stop the sale, arguing in its filings that some of the roughly 70 items are considered “heritage objects” under the nation’s Heritage Act, which means they cannot be removed from the country without a permit.

The first attempt at a sale, in 2022, was canceled. But in December, a three-judge panel of the high court in Pretoria sided with Mr. Mandela’s daughter, ruling that the agency’s interpretation of “heritage objects” was “overbroad.”

Mr. Ettinger said at the time that he had been advised the court ruling resolved the matter. But this month, the South African agency said it had joined with other groups and would seek permission to appeal the judgment.

A spokeswoman for South Africa’s Constitutional Court said there was no immediate update on the appeal. The agency said in a statement on Tuesday that it was still waiting for its appeal to be granted.

In the statement, the agency said it valued the cooperation by Guernsey’s and welcomed the decision to suspend the auction, calling it “a responsible and considerate approach.”

Mr. Ettinger said that Guernsey’s “recognizes the need for historic preservation” and that the auction house had recently received “additional South African claims” that complicated matters further. He did not elaborate.

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