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The fight for what’s right in Madiba’s honour

Sep 04 2016 08:09
Eugene Goddard

A photo of an alleged arrest warrant made out for Nelson Mandela, when he was still a fugitive, that a retired army colonel thought would net him a tidy sum

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The retiring army officer thought he had it made when he cleared out his office and found an “arrest warrant” made out for South Africa’s most famed fugitive, Nelson Mandela.

It bore all the marks of a valuable, old document – it was yellow and had brittle edges, dirty stains and faded ink.

Sold at auction, the colonel thought, it could set him up for his golden years.

But the mysterious document that was presumably issued for Mandela’s arrest when he was on the run in the 1960s is, like so many other so-called artefacts connected to the struggle stalwart, not worth the smudged paper it was written on.

A photo of an alleged arrest warrant made out for Nelson Mandela, when he was still a fugitive, that a retired army colonel thought would net him a tidy sum

The proliferation and poor quality of many Mandela “relics”, it turns out, has most auctioneers running scared when approached with these items.

An auction manager for Russell Kaplan Auctioneers said: “We’re not interested. We have found that there’s no value in it for us.”

Her sentiments were confirmed by another auction company on Jan Smuts Avenue, which first agreed to an interview and then insisted on having a contract signed to “check” content prior to City Press publishing it.

One of the company’s senior representatives, who we cannot name, said that Mandela collectables were usually unfeasible because they took up too much time and expertise to verify.

He recalls how, because of the number of forgeries out there, it once took about six months to authenticate an artwork, one of the infamous Hands of Mandela pieces, which they only managed to sell for R20 000.

According to the “senior appraiser”, who says he’s a “googler” when asked how valuation works, there are three boxes that must be ticked to verify a piece as a Mandela collectable:

  • “You need to approach the Belgravia Gallery because they handled Mandela’s art;
  • “You need to have his signature authenticated by a graphologist, and there is such a person right here in Johannesburg; and
  • “You need a letter from the Nelson Mandela Foundation as to its legitimacy.”

But Verne Harris, who heads the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, said the very notion that the auction company would sell so-called Mandela art already raises eyebrows.

“The Hands of Mandela series was overseen by Ismail Ayob,” a former legal representative of Mandela’s, “and involved Madiba doing hand prints. There were also a series of watercolours depicting his time on Robben Island.

“These were sold to raise money, but it was a misguided project in the first instance and, secondly, there is evidence of additional copies being generated fraudulently.”

Harris added that the matter of a series of lithographs, also involving Ayob and which Mandela signed at Belgravia, remained unresolved despite the fact that it’s been more than 10 years since Mandela took his former attorney to court in an attempt to protect the honour and integrity of his name.

The contentious case caused an acrimonious split between Mandela and his erstwhile struggle litigator, and Ayob has apparently disappeared off the radar.

Attempts to get comment from Ayob, as well as Anna Hunter and Laura Walford of Belgravia, proved unsuccessful. – Eugene Goddard

nelson madela  |  fraud


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