Madiba cell sleepover dispute: We were given permission, says organiser

Cape Town – The Robben Island Museum (RIM) has condemned the auctioning of Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – but the organiser of the event, the CEO SleepOut Trust, insists the museum approved the initiative.

RIM expressed outrage yesterday and denied any knowledge of the auction, which the CEO SleepOut started at a bid of R3.4 million. It has already attracted three bids, reaching R4.1m, with the sale set to close on July 16, two days before what would have been Madiba’s centenary.

The CEO SleepOut published details of the auction on its website, stating “Robben Island Room Bid”, a “once in-a-lifetime opportunity to sleep in Madiba’s personal prison cell number 7 will be auctioned off for the night with bids opening at US$250 000.”

RIM spokesperson Morongoa Ramaboa said they were saddened that Nelson Mandela’s legacy was being “exploited”.

“Robben Island Museum would under no circumstances consider auctioning Madiba’s cell. The preservation of our heritage is non-negotiable. It is a key priority for us to safeguard our valuable legacy in order to offer an authentic visitor experience,” Ramaboa said.

However, the CEO SleepOut Trust said there has been ongoing discussions with RIM since early last year, and this year the project was given access to all the maximum security jail cells for the event. But Ramaboa maintained that no cell could be auctioned.

“The museum usually accommodates different groups to spend some time on the island and have previously done so through our ‘A day in the life of a prisoner’ product.

“Additionally, we have a guest house on the island and also make use of our Multipurpose Centre to host school camps and other special groups.”

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Ramaboa said they were unhappy to find out about the auction through the public domain.

“The organisers of the CEO SleepOut, The Philanthropic Collection, approached us to host their July leg of the sleepout on the island early this year. We welcomed their request and contract negotiations were initiated with regard to terms and services offered.

“The contract negotiations in respect of July 18th were never finalised and the intention for the CEO SleepOut was for the event to be postponed. During these negotiations, the auctioning or the possibility of anyone spending a night in Nelson Mandela’s cell was never discussed or raised.”

The CEO SleepOut, which raises money for various charities, said they announced on June 4 that a night in Mandela’s prison cell would be auctioned for charity to mark the centenary of prisoner No 46664’s birthday.

Approached for comment, the trust said Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, a patron of the SleepOut Movement, and Dr Brylyne Chitsunge, a pan-African ambassador for food security in Africa, were “appalled and shocked” by the museum denying knowing about the auction and statements it made to the media.

“The trustees of The CEO SleepOut Trust would like to extend their sincere apologies if they have offended anyone in their quest to raise funds for worthy causes, as this was certainly not its intent.

“The CEO SleepOut Trust has as its goal to receive donations from third parties in relation to the CEO SleepOut Events, provide funding and support services, and ensure the funds are disseminated to the appointed primary beneficiaries with absolute transparency and accountability,” the trust said.

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At the meeting all of the campaigns relating to the 2018 event were mutually strategised and subsequently agreed upon, they said.

“It included the use of the maximum security courtyard as well as auctioning of Nelson Mandela’s Cell No 7.”

When this was put to Ramaboa, she said they stood by their statement that the museum never gave the green light.

The trust said: “The CEO SleepOut project was given exclusive use of the required infrastructures at Robben Island to see the event come to fruition, including the exclusive use of the Robben Island ferries after the last public ferry at 14:00 on the 18th of July.

“Access to their vehicles on the island, access to their tour guides, who are all former prisoners, access to water and electricity, and access to the lime quarry and a night tour of the island.”

The money raised through the auction was intended for the Prison-to-College Pipeline Project (P2CP) which is active in prisons across the world.

P2CP has been developed through a partnership between Stellenbosch University and the Department of Correctional Services and Western Cape Community Organisations, which is aimed at integrating prisoners back into their communities.

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Cape Times


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