A MOSOTHO man has claimed that he is the owner of the Toyota Cressida which the late former South African President, Nelson Mandela, and his then wife Winnie were driven in shortly after Mr Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.
Mr Mandela who spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason against the then apartheid regime, was driven in Toyota Cressida shortly after his release from Victor Verster Prison on 11 February 1990.
The vehicle which was sourced from the Protea Toyota dealership in Bellville, Cape Town, was later returned to the same dealership and according to https://www.wheels24.co.za/ it was sold “without its momentous role in history being documented”.
“The bizarre consequence of all this is that the most famous Cressida in history has effectively disappeared whereas it should have been stored for future display purposes,” the car magazine states in its online article titled “What happened to the Toyota Cressida Madiba was driving in when he was released from prison?”
But the mystery of the disappearance of the Toyota Cressida has probably been solved after a Mosotho man, Selibe Sello*, approached this publication and claimed he is in possession of the iconic vehicle.
Mr Sello said the grey automatic Cressida “is the best sedan ever and it has never given me any mechanical problems”.
Narrating how he got to own the car, Mr Sello said, “I was in Durban on some business in 2009 when I spotted this car at some drive-in where cars are sold on Sundays and right next to it was a big signboard written ‘Mandela’s Cressida”.
“I immediately fell in love with that car but I never bought the story that it belonged to Mandela. To me the Mandela connection was not significant but I liked the fact that the car was in good condition and as one who loved Cressidas I approached the car dealer, one Mr Krishnapersadh, who was selling the car for R50 000.
“I didn’t have that kind of money on that day and I pleaded with him to keep the car for me until I came back at the end of the month in January 2009. I eventually negotiated to pay R48 000 so that I would use the change to buy fuel. A few months later, the same car dealer called me with an offer to buy back the car for R500 000 because it had some historic significance. But I turned him down because I had fallen in love with the car.”
He said Mr Krishnapersadh narrated to him how he ended up with car in his dealership.
Mr Krishnapersadh is said to have told Mr Sello that he (Mr Krishnapersadh) and his friend, Major John William Harding (who had been in charge of Robben Island when Mr Mandela was imprisoned at the facility), took care of Mr Mandela’s needs and in their work they used the Cressida vehicle which had been donated by a Cape Town car dealer.
He said after the vehicle had ferried Mr Mandela upon his release from prison, they kept the vehicle because the authorities never demanded it back.
Major Harding is said to have been the first to use the car after relocating to Centurion, Johannesburg in 1992. He later handed it over to Mr Krishnapersadh who had moved to Durban and when the latter registered it, it had the registration number ND 232255. The duo later agreed to sell the car and share the proceeds.
Since learning about the Mandela connection, Mr Sello said he had called the South African authorities including the ruling African National Congress Secretary General, Ace Magashule, to inform him that he is in possession of the iconic vehicle.
“I tried all I could to notify the South African authorities as I had learnt that they were searching for the car after it had been sold like any ordinary car. I even called Ace Magashule who told me that he was going for Robert Mugabe’s funeral in Zimbabwe (in September 2019) and he would revert to me as soon as he got back which he has not done up to now.
“I also called the then Western Cape provincial transport minister, Sanele Nyoka, upon learning that he had tasked some investigators to look for the vehicle.”
Mr Sello says due to the “negative reaction” he has so far received from the South African authorities he would be willing to sell the ‘iconic car’ to the highest bidder.
Various South African reports show that the bonnet suffered some dents caused by the massive crowds that greeted Mr Mandela upon his release.
This publication saw Mr Sello’s car which appears to have a few dents on the bonnet even after maintenance and repainting.
“The car is still as good as new and has never been involved in an accident. It is kept in a safe place and is rarely used. Nothing has been changed except the steering cover,” Mr Sello said.
This publication recently spoke to Mr Krishnapersadh’s son, Sanjay Krishnapersadh, who said his father had since passed on. Sanjay said he could not vouch for the claims that the car had indeed been used by Mr Mandela. He also said he was no longer in contact with Major Harding who had changed his address.
“My father long passed on. I know about that car but I don’t have any way of proving that it was used by Mandela and I don’t even have Mr Harding’s contacts.”
South African High Commissioner in Lesotho, Sello Moloto, said he had not heard of Mr Sello’s claims that he owned the Mandela vehicle. Mr Moloto however, said he would “really be happy to host him and hear his side of the story while we also think of other means to get verifications of his from historians”.
*Selibe Sello is not the alleged Mandela vehicle owner’s real name. His real name has been withheld because he fears the likely international spotlight which would come with being publicly known as the owner of the sought-after car.