The National Heritage Council of South Africa is trying to prevent an auction house in the United Kingdom from selling a historic letter written by anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.
The letter, if auctioned, may be untraceable because the bidder will be unknown.
In the letter Biko writes to the chief magistrate in King Williamstown in 1973, requesting permission to visit his wife, Nontsikelelo “Ntsiki” Mashalaba, at St Matthews Hospital, where she worked.
The auction house plans to sell the letter online on October 28.
In a statement released today, the heritage council denounced the auction saying that it is “unacceptable” to South Africa’s heritage community.
“This will be a permanent loss to the country’s national memory. The country will lose the piece of evidence to prove that freedom was taken away from even the most reputable leaders and activists at that time.
“We are not going to stand aside and watch the wealthy community exploiting our heritage. The Biko letter should be the property of the state.
“How it landed in private hands is still a mystery but also a question to the safety of our historical artefacts,” advocate Sonwabile Mancotywa, chief executive of the heritage council, said.
The heritage council’s spokesperson Danny Goulkan said that the letter would be sold to the highest bidder and that at the moment it is between £2000 and £3000, which roughly comes to between R38 000 and R56 500.
News of the intention to auction the letter surfaced through local informers, who alerted authorities.
The heritage council called on all citizens to report any theft or illegal possession of historical archival material or artefacts.