Nelson Mandela’s colourful shirts, belongings up for auction

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 honour.

Among the roughly 100 items are the colourful 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.

Mandela’s Madiba shirts, named after his Xhosa clan name, are similar to batik. (Reuters pic)

Gifts from former United States 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 deal with their own issues, 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 home with me?’”

Phase one of the site has been completed.

Items going up for auction include Mandela’s glasses and blanket, as well as a handwritten letter. (Reuters pic)

More than a fashion statement

Ten shirts in the sale are on display at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum for three weeks, as a way of educating and inspiring 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.

Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's auctions, talks as he points to shirts formerly belonging to Nelson Mandela that are going up for auction in New York to raise funds for charity.
Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s auctions, talks as he points to shirts formerly belonging to Nelson Mandela that are going up for auction in New York to raise funds for charity.
Image: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Arlan Ettinger, President of Guernsey’s auctions holds a pair of glasses formerly belonging to Nelson Mandela that is going up for auction to raise funds for charity in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, on Oct 13, 2021.

“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 the prison,” Mears added.


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