Nelson Mandela’s Famous Shirts, Belongings up for Auction

By Reuters
October 15, 2021Trending
Nelson Mandela’s Famous Shirts, Belongings up for Auction
Arlan Ettinger, President of Guernsay's auctions talks as he points to shirts formerly belonging to Nelson Mandela that are going up for auction to raise funds for charity are pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, N.Y., on Oct. 13, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/REUTERS)

NEW YORK—The family of late South African President Nelson Mandela is selling the anti-apartheid leader’s personal belongings to help pay for a memorial garden being built in his honor.

Among the roughly 100 items are the colorful patterned Madiba shirts he wore on formal occasions, including to meet Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 1998 and 2003.

These shirts “brought joy to the great leader” and set him apart from other politicians, said Arlan Ettinger, president of New York-based auction house Guernsey’s, which will host a live and online auction on Dec. 11.

Gifts from former U.S. President Barack Obama and other heads of state, as well as Mandela’s glasses, briefcases, and pants, are also on sale to fund the Nelson Mandela Freedom Garden in Qunu, South Africa where he is buried. He died in 2013 at age 95 at home in Johannesburg.

Items that showcase Mandela’s family life will be saved for the memorial space.

Dr. Makaziwe Mandela said her father wanted to generate tourism on the Eastern Cape, where he was born, and said she feels a responsibility to make that happen.

“When people come and visit they have to actually deal with their own issues that they have, not just in terms of racism, but also personal issues,” she said.

“When they finish walking the garden they should actually have a sense of what lesson can I take from Nelson Mandela’s life that I take home with me.”

Phase one of the site has been completed.

Ten shirts in the sale are on display at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum for three weeks, as a way to educate and inspire diverse audiences and students, said Patricia Mears, deputy director of the museum.

Madiba shirts, named after Mandela’s Xhosa clan name, are similar to the loose batik shirts worn in Indonesia and Malaysia. He was given one by former Indonesian President Suharto in 1990 after he was released from prison, where he was locked up for 27 years for fighting to end apartheid.

“The Madiba shirts are much more than a fashion statement. They are about our entire world, how we view the world, how we want to advance our society and our cultures,” said Mears.

“And so again, this is a statement way beyond just being about personal enhancement. It is saying something about how we can change the world through dress.”

The auction includes a four-page letter Mandela wrote in 1976 while imprisoned on Robben Island.

“You can see how patiently he wrote this out. And then here it is the stamp from Robben Island prison. The letter was written to the commanding officer of Robben Island Prison.”

By Alicia Powell

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