Squabble over Mandela's missing gun
Just received an angry call, followed by an even angrier press release, from the people who run one of South Africa's most historic pieces of real estate - Liliesleaf Farm north of Johannesburg. Words like "belligerent," "greediness," and "selfish," are being thrown about - all because of a squabble over the search for Nelson Mandela's old pistol - an item of "sentimental importance" to the elderly liberation hero.
Several anti-apartheid activists were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in the 1960s. Image courtesy of Liliesleaf Trust
During the struggle against apartheid, the Communist Party, and then the armed wing of the banned ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe, used the farm buildings as their headquarters. Mr Mandela famously spent time in hiding there disguised as a labourer - and in July 1963 many of his closest colleagues were arrested at the farm. One of them, Ahmed Kathrada recently showed me the window he tried to escape through. He was caught and ended up in the dock together with Mr Mandela. The infamous Rivonia trial was named after the farm's location.
Over the years, Mr Mandela has frequently mentioned that while on the run from the security services - and dubbed the Black Pimpernel by the media - he buried a treasured souvenir - his semi-automatic Makarov pistol somewhere on the property. But where? Various elderly struggle heroes have pointed in different directions, and the gun has yet to be found.
The Trust - which now manages that farm as a tourism, legacy and resource centre - has for some time been negotiating access to what is considered a promising spot - which is now part of an adjoining property - with a view to sending in an expert with a high-powered metal detector.
But according to the Trust's Nicholas Wolpe, the neighbour recently sent him a lawyer's letter, refusing further access "for any reason whatsoever" and insisting that the Trust must instead buy the property for 3m rand ($270,000; £435,000).
In response, Mr Wolpe accused the owner of backtracking and "greediness," in trying to "exploit the situation," as well as "a total lack of respect for the significance of this historical project which has now been bought (sic) to an abrupt and premature halt."
Although the gun has historic value, Mr Wolpe has made it clear that his primary concern is to find it while Mr Mandela is still alive - and able to see it himself. "Recent events surrounding Mr Mandela's health," he said in a statement, made the Trust "extremely keen to uncover" its whereabouts.
Bobbie Lanham-Love, a lawyer representing the neighbour - Al Leenstra - told me his "fairly elderly" client has "nothing cynical in his intentions, and has been bending over backwards to do what's right," and "simply wishes to put the deal to bed." He accused Mr Wolpe of threatening to "play dirty."