A night in Mandela's prison cell – yours for$300,000

Thursday July 5 2018

Nelson Mandela revisits his cell at Robben Island in 1994. PHOTO | FILE

Nelson Mandela revisits his cell at Robben Island in 1994. PHOTO | FILE 

By AFP
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For rich corporate executives, fine food, expensive wine and five-star hotels come as standard.

But one discerning top boss with a spare $300,000 will give up creature comforts for a night in the cramped prison cell that was Nelson Mandela's home for 18 years.

That is according to organisers of the annual CEO sleep-out, an initiative which raises money for various charities.

South Africa's first democratic, black president was kept on South Africa's Robben Island prison off Cape Town for much of his 27-year incarceration.

A night in his iconic 8-foot by 7-foot (2.4 metres by 2.1 metres) concrete cell will now be auctioned for charity to mark the centenary of prisoner number 46664's birthday. 

"The suggestion was to auction the cell to raise money to fund the Prison-to-College Pipeline... educating incarcerated people in South Africa," says Liane McGowan, spokeswoman for the CEO SleepOut South Africa.

Details of when the one night only fundraiser will take place, had not been finalised, she adds.

Online bidding started at $250,000 and has already attracted three bids, reaching $300,000 with the sale set to close on July 16.

The winner will spend one night in Mandela's cell number seven, while up to 66 other bidders will sleep elsewhere in the island prison that is now a museum and World Heritage site.

The Museum's management could not be reached for comment.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said it was not a part of the initiative and could not be responsible for the usage of Mandela's cell.

Charity

Sixty-seven (number of people to sleep on the island) was chosen as Mandela dedicated 67 years of his life to the fight against the racist apartheid system that governed South Africa until Mandela won the first democratic non-racial elections in 1994.

The initiative is part of the CEO SleepOut movement which auctions nights in unusual locations to wealthy business leaders to raise money for charitable causes.

The Robben Island event will raise funds for the Prison-to-College Pipeline (P2P), a scheme that began in New York to help prisoners access university-level education.

The P2P initiative will be launched in South Africa on July 18, Mandela's birthday.

A similar event will be held on July 11 at the Liliesleaf Farm in northern Johannesburg, which was used as a safe house by several anti-apartheid fighters including Mandela.

The base was raided by apartheid security forces in 1963 and several anti-regime leaders faced the courts at the so-called "Rivonia Trial", which resulted in Mandela being jailed for life.

Executives have previously spent the night under the Mandela Bridge in central Johannesburg to raise awareness of poverty and homelessness.

The event was criticised online and in the media by some who accused it of mocking those forced to sleep rough.