Nelson Mandela’s sneakers are coming home.
A pair of white Hi-Tec trainers worn by the late South African leader upon his walk out of Robben Island’s prison in 1990 will now be permanently exhibited in the sportswear brand’s new Stellenbosch store.
According to FN’s sister publication, WWD, the size 10 sneakers — part of a line of tennis shoes called Hi-Tec Wimbledon — were won by the Netherlands-based company at an auction in 1996 to benefit the Nelson Mandela Foundation. After their display at the Hi-Tec Amsterdam flagship, chairman Frank van Wezel returned the sneakers to their home country in December, showcasing them at the storefront window of the outpost in the university town.
Van Wezel told WWD that the shoes were a big hit in Stellenbosch, where more than 40,000 students reportedly reside. “‘Are they really Madiba’s shoes?’ ‘We didn’t know he was wearing quite modern sneakers,’ they’d say, ‘since he was an old man,'” he mimicked the scholars, using the affectionate nickname given to Mandela. “But what they don’t realize is that he was a young man once; in fact, he was quite young when he entered Robben Island. He was only 45.”
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A gift from then-wife Winnie Mandela, the shoes were worn by the South African revolutionary before he became president in 1994.
“Our shoes were on the feet of the person who had written ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ on the day that he was finally liberated. His walk started with our sneakers,” said van Wezel. “There was so much history in that one pair of sneakers. And humor, too. Because there were certainly no tennis courts on Robben Island! But Mandela always had a playful sense of humor.”
Mandela’s Hi-Tec shoes, were said to have cost 300 South African rands back in the day (or about $22 now) but would be double that price today, van Wezel told the publication.
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