Nelson Mandela’s status as an icon of South African democracy is still money in the bank, as was the case last week when an NFT of his 60-year-old arrest warrant sold for $130,000.
The auction took place on Momint, a London-based online store for digital art. Proceeds will go to Liliesleaf, which is a heritage site today but was the base of operations for some anti-apartheid campaigners in the 1960s. The money will help “museum sites stay afloat,” Ahren Posthumus, Momint’s CEO, told Bloomberg.
Few past African leaders had the kind of outsized impact Mandela, who died in 2013, had on South Africa. It makes items attached to the former president attractive at auctions, but it isn’t always a straightforward affair.
Guernsey’s, the New York auction house, had planned to auction items from Mandela’s life on Jan. 28 this year. The public was invited to bid for the key to the Robben Island cell where Mandela spent 27 years in detention, a tennis racquet, a pair of glasses, and a Mandela-signed copy of South Africa’s 1996 constitution, among other items.
But the auction was cast into doubt after Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s minister of sport, arts, and culture, objected last December, saying that the Robben Island key belonged to the people of South Africa, and that Guernsey’s hadn’t consulted the government. The South African Heritage Resources Agency got Guernsey’s to call off the auction.
There has been no controversy with the arrest-warrant NFT auction. The original physical document was donated to Liliesleaf in 2004 and it remains in the organization’s possession. As part of the sale, Posthumus says, the NFT owner will have exclusive access to it.
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