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An historian is leading a search for a handgun that Nelson Mandela buried at a farm outside Johannesburg before his arrest by apartheid police in 1962, the owner of the site said on Friday.
Nicholas Wolpe, the founder of the Liliesleaf Trust -- named after the farm where Mandela and other African National Congress stalwarts met regularly in the 1960s -- said the gun was of tremendous historical value.
"It was a gun he got from an Ethiopian, Colonel Biru Tadessa, just before his military training there was cut short after he was called back," Wolpe told Agence France-Presse.
The gun is thought to be a Makarov made in the former Soviet Union.
"It was probably one of the first pieces of hardware given to the ANC," he said. "That and the fact it was gifted to Mandela makes it very special."
Wolpe said the hero of the fight to end apartheid visited the area in 2003, when he pointed to where he had buried the gun and asked him: "Have you found it yet?"
Wolpe said that got him thinking.
"We bought the property in October and we demolished the house in June, and now we are looking for the gun. The expertise we are using is an historian and an excavator."
Wolpe's property comprises only 2,2ha of the Liliesleaf farm. He is optimistic that the gun will be found soon.
"According to Mandela, the pit he dug with others was about 1,5m deep. That's not too difficult an area to look in," Wolfe said, adding that it was about 50 paces from the kitchen door of the house that had stood there.
Wolpe said he also planned to set up a research centre on the property with papers relating to the anti-apartheid struggle launched by the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, of which Mandela was a leading member.
Mandela (87) spent a total of 27 years in prison during the apartheid era before becoming South Africa's first black president in 1994. He retired in 1999. -- Sapa-AFP