A charity that planned to auction a night in Nelson Mandela’s prison cell was locked in a bitter dispute on Thursday with the museum that maintains the historic site.
The annual CEO Sleepout initiative, which raises money for various charities, said on Wednesday that the highest bidder would spend a night in Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, where he spent much of his 27-year incarceration.
South Africa’s first democratically elected president was kept on the prison island, off the coast of Cape Town, along with other anti-apartheid political prisoners.
But curators at the Robben island museum condemned the event on Thursday and denied having any prior knowledge of the proposed sleepout in Mandela’s cell until learning about it through the media.
“As Robben Island museum, we strongly condemn this auction. We are saddened that Nelson Mandela’s legacy is being exploited in this way,” Robben Island Museum spokeswoman Morongoa Ramaboa told AFP.
“As a World Heritage Site, we would under no circumstances consider auctioning Madiba’s cell. The preservation of our heritage is non negotiable.”
The organisers of the CEO SleepOut had advertised the auction of the 8-foot by 7-foot (2.4 metres by 2.1 metres) concrete cell to mark the centenary of Mandela’s birthday on July 18.
But the CEO SleepOut Trust insisted the Robben Island event would go ahead at a later date.
In a statement it claimed the 2018 Robben Island event was “mutually strategized and subsequently agreed upon” — including the the auction of a night in cell number seven, which was used by Mandela.
It said Robben Island’s spokeswoman was present at a launch event on May 10 along with other parties connected to running of the prison museum.
“The CEO SleepOut project was given access to all the maximum-security jail cells for the event. It included the use of the maximum-security courtyard — as well as Nelson Mandela’s cell number seven,” said the statement.
The online auction, which had already attracted supposed bids of up to $300,000 (256,000 euros), has since been removed from the CEO Sleepout website.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation distanced itself from the auction, saying it was not responsible for the use of Mandela’s cell.
LISTEN: Mourners sing ‘Amazing Grace’ outside the Supreme Court to celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Heartwarming videos were shared on social media on Friday night showing the spontaneous gathering at the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The large crowd, with many people wearing masks, sang the hymn "Amazing Grace."
Here are some of the videos of the scene:
A moving moments as dozens join in to sing “Amazing Grace” on the steps of the Supreme Court. pic.twitter.com/NGZyZi4YR4
— Mike Balsamo (@MikeBalsamo1) September 19, 2020
Here’s how Mitch McConnell could lose his leverage to replace Ginsburg after November
WATCH: Trump reveals how he can manipulate Democrats to help him put Ted Cruz on the Supreme Court
President Donald Trump spoke about his plans for the Supreme Court during a Friday night campaign rally in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Trump took the stage before news was announced that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died and appeared to not know of the Supreme Court vacancy.
Trump explained to his audience why he had put Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on his shortlist for a Supreme Court nomination.
“I said, you know, I have to have someone that we’re going sure we get approved and the only one I could think of is Ted, because he’s going to get 50 Republican votes and he’s going to get 50 Democrat votes — they’ll do anything to get him out of the Senate," Trump said.