Sneakers Worn by Nelson Mandela on Permanent Display at Hi-Tec Store in South Africa

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.

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Nelson Mandela’s sneakers have come back home to South Africa. The late South African president and global icon of freedom, affectionately known as Madiba, walked out of the notorious Robben Island prison in 1990 after a total of 27 years of incarceration and hard labor wearing a pair of white tennis shoes, U.S. size 10, with the Hi-Tec logo in blue. “They were a classic design of tennis shoes called Hi-Tec Wimbledon, given to Mandela by his then wife Winnie Mandela,” recalled Frank van Wezel, chairman of the Netherlands-based multinational sports footwear and apparel company. When the sneakers came up for auction in 1996 to benefit the Nelson Mandela Foundation, van Wezel wasted no time putting in the winning bid for the pair. They were scruffy and worn but no less significant. “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. 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.” In December last year, van Wezel felt it was time to return the sneakers to their rightful home after being on display at the Hi-Tec Amsterdam flagship. He chose to put the sneakers on permanent display under a glass case at the storefront window of the new Stellenbosch store, a university town in the Cape Winelands two hours away from Cape Town. The words “STEP INTO GREATNESS” beckon to passersby. The reaction from the public has been “sensational.” Stellenbosch is home to around 40,000 students, and van Wezel said that students have walked into the store and asked, “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.’ 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.” Report: @bambina_o_ . . . . . #wwdnews #nelsonmandela

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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.”

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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