Historians scour ANC hideout for Mandela's handgun

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On Lilliesleaf farm in South Africa, archaeologists and historians are hoping to dig up a piece of history. It is here that Nelson Mandela is said to have buried what may be one of the first weapons in the fight against apartheid - his pistol.

Mr Mandela buried the gun at the ANC hideout shortly before he was arrested and jailed in 1962. The Makarov pistol was a gift from an Ethiopian colonel shortly after the founding of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Nicholas Wolpe, the owner, wants to give it pride of place in a museum. "It may be the first piece of hardware given to Umkhonto we Sizwe in the liberation struggle" Mr Wolpe said.

The search began in 2003, when Mr Mandela visited the former ANC base and pointed to a spot, saying: "It's over there." It has now been narrowed down to a piece of land the size of a football pitch, which is now being excavated by bulldozers.

"We got excited several times, but it turned out to be scrap such as hubcaps, exhaust silencers and pick-axes," Mr Wolpe said. "What we do know is that Mandela said he dug a pit so deep that a plough would not be able to unearth it." The cache was wrapped in tin foil and plastic and covered with a tin plate for protection. Mr Wolpe said he hoped to start scouring the area with metal detectors in the next two days.

In 1962 the discovery would almost certainly have resulted in Mr Mandela being charged with treason, which carries the death sentence. Instead he and seven comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage.