The golden hands of Nelson Mandela – four of them, in fact – have earned an Okotoks man $10 million in bitcoins after he sold off his collection earlier this month.
The solid gold castings of the late former South African president’s hand, palm and fist are believed to be the only ones left in the world.
“I’ve had plenty of offers, fast and furious,” said Malcolm Duncan, a South African businessman who has lived in Okotoks for the past 12 years. “His fingerprints on his gold hands are probably more prominent than mine on my own hands. They really succeeded in getting the definition on the hands.”
The set weighs about nine kilograms of 99.999 of pure gold. It was cast in 2002 by South Africa’s Harmony Gold mining group, 12 years after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
Duncan, 62, says he met Mandela twice in the early 2000s while he still lived in his native country, after his company helped supply the equipment for a breast cancer clinic Mandela created.
Harmony Gold hoped to complete a full set of gold artifacts consisting of a fist, full hand and palm impression of Mandela’s right hand for each of the 27 years Mandela was imprisoned during apartheid. After meeting Mandela, he decided to purchase the sets dedicated to 1964 and 1990, marking the years Mandela was incarcerated and freed.
“The only four (hands) that were ever sold to the public ever were sold to me,” said Duncan, who has since gotten them authenticated by Harmony Gold.
He said the other sets were later destroyed by the order of Mandela. After the anti-apartheid revolutionary was released from prison, thousands of pieces of art bearing his name began flooding the market. Various scandals, including allegations of forgery, put a stop to the deluge.
Photographs show Mandela sitting for the castings in 2002. As a condition of being allowed to buy the artifacts, Duncan says he paid double the 1.8 million-rand purchase price with the understanding Harmony would give half to Mandela’s charities.
The hands are incredibly detailed, with scars and fingerprints visible.
“They managed to get this gold to flow into the mould and pick up the most detailed fingerprints,” he said. “He cut his thumb quite badly on Robben Island, his right thumb, and you can see it.”
At a conference earlier this month in Toronto, Duncan and representatives of Arbitrade, an Ontario-based cryptocurrency company, struck the $10-million deal.
The collection will be handed over in late April to Arbitrade, which is “weeks away” from doing an initial coin offering and is building a facility in Waterloo, Ont., to mine its own cryptocurrencies and trade others.
Its key selling point is that it will back all its virtual coins with some percentage of physical metal — including gold, according to chairman Len Schutzman.
Mandela’s solid gold hand would seem to fit the bill, although as a general rule Schutzman says he’ll seek to acquire gold bars or coins rather than art.
The value of the gold is a fraction of the artifacts’ purchase price, but their real value is one of publicity, as a means of educating millennials about Mandela. The company was particularly interested in acquiring the golden hands this year, as Mandela would have hit 100 years old in July, said Duncan.
Arbitrade also plans to launch a global “Golden Hands of Nelson Mandela” tour, according to Schutzman.
Duncan, who runs Excalibur Shelters, a company that builds emergency and rescue shelters as well as truck accessories, said he plans to use the funds from the sale to start up a new factory in the U.S., where his company will be expanding in the near future.
So far, he’s been paid a bitcoin deposit that has been converted to $50,000. The rest is due to be delivered in quarterly instalments of at least $2 million per extremity, starting April 30. He said Arbitrade is responsible for handling the conversion of his funds to U.S. dollars, although he might keep some of it in cryptocurrency in case it appreciates in value.
The 62-year-old said owning the golden Mandela relics has been the most unique experience he could have ever had.
“Jesus Christ lived long ago. I don’t know when he lived,” said Duncan. “I don’t know when Gandhi lived, I don’t know when Churchill lived, but I certainly remember when Mandela lived. He’s a politician that never, ever can somebody say a single wrong word came out of his lips in his presidency. Never, ever.”
– With files from Bloomberg News