Locked out: Sheriffs fail to seize Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's art collection and silver tea set over long-overdue debt


Sheriffs trying to auction off part of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's art collection and silver tea set in order to settle a long-overdue debt were unable to proceed today, after being refused entry into her Soweto home.

"We can't break down the gate, we haven't got papers for it," said Choert Martins, the manager of the Soweto East Sheriff's office, "And there's no locksmith who's prepared to go in there."

Officials planned to auction off around 50 paintings, sculptures, a roomful of books, several furniture sets, and a 24-piece silver tea set - all belonging to former President Nelson Mandela's ex-wife.

Lawyers acting for Abbotts College, a private senior school with campuses throughout South Africa, say Madikizela-Mandela, an MP who reportedly earns around R900,000 (£6,200) a year, still owes the college money for her grandniece's accommodation while she was studying at its northern Johannesburg institution.

Stephen Karnavos, an attorney representing the school, released a financial statement to the Independent, indicating that Madikizela-Mandela owes more than R47,000 (over £3,200), including interest and legal costs and sheriff's fees.

He said an uncleared cheque for just over a third of the overall debt had been submitted, but was refused, and some £280 had allegedly been given in cash to the sheriffs.

Officials from the Soweto East sheriff's office rang the bell at her large facebrick residence repeatedly on Tuesday morning, and banged on her tall metal gate, but departed after an hour when no one opened the door, despite movement at an upstairs window.

"The matter is not over. It will have to be settled. Otherwise we're going to go in with force, with police and the Red Ants," Mr Martins said, referring to an infamous private security force that government bodies often use to evict residents from private property or buildings.

"She's not getting away with it," said Mr Martins.

If they'd known Madikizela-Mandela was in her home, they could have lain a charge against her for obstructing the execution of their duties, he said, but it could not be confirmed.

The school's lawyers say they do not know when the auction will rescheduled.