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NFT saves SA’s prized heritage site

One of South Africa’s iconic national heritage sites, Liliesleaf Museum, may be able to keep its doors open after a non-fungible token (NFT) of Nelson Mandela’s original warrant of arrest was auctioned for a staggering R1.9 million over the weekend.

Before we skip ahead, let’s address the new-ish acronym in the room: NFT

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music and videos. They are bought and sold online and are usually made with the same underlying software as cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. They are generally one of a kind, or at least one of a very limited run, as in this case. Daily Maverick notes, “The winning buyer, who prefers not to be named at this stage, will not own the original, actual arrest warrant, which remains the property of the museum” or even a copy. Rather, “they will own the digital rights to a piece of history that will only appreciate in time.” 

The first buyer of this NFT will be entitled to 5% of any subsequent sale of additional digital versions of the warrant, in perpetuity. 

The heavily-indebted museum announced last year it would close its doors indefinitely following years of financial woes. These were exacerbated by the hit the tourism industry took during the pandemic. Last year the museum received about R720,000 after an auction of an NFT of a pen gun owned by Oliver Tambo, TimesLive reported. 

To recap the history: In the early sixties, Liliesleaf in Rivonia served as the secret headquarters and nerve centre for various parties in their struggle against the apartheid regime. When police got word of the underground operations, they raided the farm. Ten people, including Mandela, were put on trial on charges of sabotage; the Rivonia Trial became one of the most pivotal moments in South Africa’s history.  

We’re always wary of volatile currencies that change as fast as Cape Town’s weather, but if this NFT is the solution to keeping the doors of our prized history open, that’s great news. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 31 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.