/ 29 August 2007

Mandela statue unveiled in London

A frail Nelson Mandela on Wednesday attended the unveiling of his statue opposite Britain’s Parliament in a ceremony recognising him as one of the greatest leaders of his age.

Mandela made his way gingerly to the platform for the ceremony, leaning on the arm of his wife, Graca Machel, and waved to an applauding crowd. His statue will join those of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln on Parliament Square, London, near to Westminster Abbey.

He was joined at the ceremony by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London mayor Ken Livingstone and anti-apartheid campaigners along with a gospel choir and 40 dancers in carnival costume.

Mandela (89) came to personify the black majority’s struggle to end apartheid, spending 27 years in jail before being released in 1990. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with then-president FW de Klerk for negotiating the transition to democratic rule, and the following year Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

He left office in 1999, but has continued to take a leading role in the fight against poverty, illiteracy and HIV/Aids in Africa.

The 2,75m bronze statue is an honour that the young Mandela dared to dream of.

In his autobiography, Mandela said that during a visit to London with his law partner and fellow anti-apartheid leader, the late Oliver Tambo, they had walked together through Parliament Square, admiring the majestic buildings around it.

Among the statues they saw was one honouring South Africa’s former prime minister Jan Smuts, a leader in the Boer war against Britain at the turn of the century and later a member of the British Cabinet under David Lloyd George during World War I.

”When we saw the statue of General Smuts near Westminster Abbey, Oliver and I joked that perhaps someday there would be a statue of us in its stead,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Livingstone had campaigned for the Mandela sculpture, designed by Ian Walters, to be placed in Trafalgar Square, which contains the monuments to the 19th-century naval hero Adm. Horatio Nelson, atop a 56m column.

A constant vigil was held in Trafalgar Square for Mandela’s release from prison during the years of apartheid rule in South Africa. Mandela has spoken to crowds in the square since his release from prison in 1990.

But Westminster council’s planning committee, which had the final say, decided the statue should go in Parliament Square, saying that was a more suitable location. A committee expert witness also criticised the Mandela statue as ”run-of-the-mill mediocre modelling” rather than good art.

In remarks prepared for the ceremony, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the statue would be a ”beacon of hope that signals to anyone suffering injustice anywhere that their suffering will not last for ever, will never be in vain, and will be overcome”.

Meanwhile, Mandela on Wednesday announced a giant benefit concert in London next June to promote his 46664 campaign against HIV/Aids.

The gig will take place in Hyde Park on June 28 to mark his 90th birthday the following month, he said at the unveiling of the statue.

The campaign, named after Mandela’s prison number during his 27-year incarceration, aims to raise awareness of the HIV/Aids pandemic, which is rife in sub-Saharan Africa. — Sapa-AP