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Plan to auction off night in Madiba’s cell hits snag

Nelson Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island.
Nelson Mandela's former prison cell on Robben Island.
Image: Shelley Christians

The CEO SleepOut has seemingly backtracked on plans to allow a wealthy funder to spend a night in former president Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell – an experience that would have cost at least $250‚000 – about R3.4m.

Details of the “Robben Island – Room Bid” were originally published on the organisation’s website.

However‚ by Wednesday night that page had been removed from the site with an “Error 404 page not found” notification instead displaying.

But the cover image on its Facebook page – @TheSleepOutMovement – at 9.15pm on Wednesday still advertised the “Nelson Mandela Legacy SleepOut – Robben Island Edition” on July 18.

The apparent decision to cancel the event comes as the Robben Island Museum itself lashed out at the idea.

Robben Island Museum spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said staff were shocked to find out about the auction on the internet‚ like everyone else.

Our heritage is not some piece of carrot that can be dangled to people with their own financial interests in mind.”
Morongoa Ramaboa, Robben Island Museum spokesperson

“It was a shock. We would like to commend South Africans for calling them out‚” Ramaboa said.

“It’s completely impossible. You can’t auction any cell, for that matter.

“We are a World Heritage Site and accountable to Unesco (United Nations Educational‚ Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and it is the heritage of South Africans.

“Our heritage is not some piece of carrot that can be dangled to people with their own financial interests in mind.”

Ramaboa said The CEO SleepOut approached the museum earlier this year to find out if it could host an event to celebrate Madiba’s centenary.

In a series of e-mails, the museum said it needed more details about the event.

“Nowhere did we discuss the auctioning of the cell. That was never part of our discussions,” Ramaboa said.

Earlier on Wednesday‚ in an interview with Jacaranda FM‚ CEO SleepOut spokesperson Liane Mcgowan defended the plan to auction off a night in Mandela’s cell. However, she said the event had been “postponed”.

She said the idea for the concept – which came from an “outside perspective”‚ which she didn’t specify – would raise money to help fund prisoners who wanted to further their education.

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