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South Africa

It’s 56 sq ft, with no toilet or running water. But a night in Mandela’s cell will cost US$300,000

The charitable initiative CEO Sleepout is raising money by auctioning accommodation on the former South African prison of Robben Island

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 11:07pm

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

But one discerning top boss with a spare US$300,000 (260,000 euros) 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 Sleepout, an initiative which raises money for various charities.

South Africa’s first democratically elected 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 56 sq ft concrete cell will now be auctioned for charity to mark the centenary of prisoner number 46664’s birthday. There is no toilet or running water. The window is barred, of course.

“The suggestion was to auction the cell to raise money to fund the Prison-to-College Pipeline … educating incarcerated people in South Africa,” said Liane McGowan, spokeswoman for the CEO SleepOut South Africa adding that details of when the one night only fundraiser will take place, had not been finalised.

Online bidding started at US$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.

Sixty-seven will be 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 18 July, 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.