SA’s Inaugural Flag returns home

27 September 2010

The Inaugural Flag, a piece of South African history that came close to being auctioned off in the UK earlier this year, will from now on be displayed at the University of Stellenbosch.

The flag was flown from an Oryx helicopter that was part of a four-aircraft formation that flew over Nelson Mandela moments after he had been inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 10 May 1994.

Mandela recalled the moment vividly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, writing: “A few moments later we all lifted our eyes in awe as a spectacular display array of South African jets, helicopters and troop carriers roared in perfect formation over the Union Buildings.

“It was not only a display of pinpoint precision and military force, but a demonstration of the military’s loyalty to democracy, to a new government that had been freely and fairly elected … Finally, a chevron of Impala jets left a smoke trail of the black, red, green, blue and gold of the new South African flag.”

The flag bears Mandela’s signature, as well as those of his then deputy presidents, Thabo Mbeki and FW De Klerk.

Rescued from auction

It was almost lost to South Africa, as it was due to be auctioned as part of Bonhams’ seventh sale of South African Art in London on 25 March 2010 – where it was expected to fetch £10 000 to £15 000 (around R120 000 to R180 000) – but was withdrawn prior to the auction.

“A London-based South African businessman and philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous has offered to buy the flag for an undisclosed amount in a sale brokered by Bonhams on the understanding that it would be returned to South Africa and handed over to the South African Government,” Bonhams said in a statement.

BuaNews, quoting the Department of Arts and Culture, has identified the benefactor as Giuseppe Ciucci, chairperson of the Stonehage Charitable Trust, adding that Ciucci had since donated the flag to the South African government.

The department is reportedly investigating how the flag found its way to the auctioneers.

Signed copy of the Freedom Charter also rescued

Another heritage item that was due to be auctioned on the same day – a signed copy of the Kliptown ANC Freedom Charter of 1955 – was also saved for the country through a pre-auction private sale negotiated by Bonhams and the Liliesleaf Trust.

It was bought for the South African State with funds provided by the Mantis hotel group, mining company Lonmin Plc, and Lord Renwick.

“This is the happiest possible outcome for the Freedom Charter,” Giles Peppiatt, director of South African art at Bonhams, said in a statement. “We are delighted to have been able to arrange a deal with this South African organisation, which was determined to see the Charter return to where it best belongs.”

The seller, Leon Levy, said in Bonhams’ statement: “This was always my hope, that the Charter would be returned to the State, and I am delighted that this has now been achieved.”

Nelson Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom that the Freedom Charter “captured the hopes and dreams of the people and acted as a blueprint for the liberation struggle and the future of the nation.”

SAinfo reporter

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