A few South Africans have taken to Twitter to try save the tiny rabbit etched in the ear of the bronze statue of former president Nelson Mandela at the Union Buidings.
Those in favour of the sculptor's hidden signature have posted their tweets on the #savetherabbit hashtag started in Britain in 2010, when the Hackney Council in London bowed to public pressure after threatening to remove a street artwork of a giant rabbit painted on the side of a recording studio.
While the Hackney artwork was gigantic, you would need a telescope to see the tiny rabbit that artists Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren added to the 9m bronze-plated Mandela statue in Pretoria.
I say keep the bunny rabbit in Mandela's ear. These days we only have depressing news, we need some humor in our lives #SaveTheRabbit
— Wian Esterhuizen (@wianesterhuizen) January 21, 2014
— Sue (@unsuetable) January 21, 2014
The department of arts and culture spokesperson Mogomotsi Mogodiri told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday the rabbit would have to go.
The department had only become aware of the existence of the rabbit after a media query and it had contacted the company that had commissioned the two sculptors to complain.
"We asked them why they had done more than we had commissioned and added a rabbit to the sculpture," said Mogodiri.
"The company said the sculptors apologised to the minister, the department and the family. We have this on record."
Koketso Growth, a cultural heritage and tourism development body, was appointed by the department in May 2013 to undertake the creation and installation of the statue. While it hired the two sculptors to undertake the work, it was not amused by the discovery of the rabbit. The chief executive officer of the company Dali Tambo, the son of the late struggle icon Oliver Tambo, described the signature as a "senseless prank".
"It is regrettable that the artists chose this way of expressing their opinion about not signing the sculpture, and that they felt it should be kept secret from their clients, Koketso Growth and the department of arts and culture. Our working relationship throughout the project was one of great trust and mutual respect, and I really feel that at any time they could have discussed the issue and not have resorted to what can almost be seen as a senseless prank," said Tambo in a statement released on Wednesday.
"Along with Minister [Paul] Mashatile, we accept their apology but remain saddened by the attention this is receiving, which does not do justice to the beauty and triumph of the 9m figure of Madiba.”
While the rabbit is still visible on the Mandela statue, Mogodiri said steps would certainly be taken in the near future "to restore the integrity of Madiba's statue".
Discussions were currently underway with the company to find a way to remove the rabbit, without spoiling the statue, he said.
The Mandela family has not been contacted by the department for their input.
"The family were happy with the way he was depicted, but were unaware there was a rabbit added to the statue," said Mogodiri. "For a rabbit to be added, it needs to be in keeping with the commission. If we commission a plain glass, then why should anyone add a flower?"
Mogodiri said the department was disappointed that the sculptors had chosen to add a rabbit to the statue, which detracted from the values and vision of Mandela. "If it hadn't been added without our knowledge, we wouldn't need to be talking about a rabbit, would we?," he said with a laugh.
Prinsloo was reluctant to comment, and said he had had no direct contact with the department.
"I honestly don't know if we have been forgiven because I just read about it in the newspapers, and on the internet," Prinsloo said. "I am sorry that such a small thing could cause such a palava. It was just a hidden signature."
When commissioned to do an artwork, some artists are asked not to signature the work, but Mogodiri said the department was never asked whether signatures could be added.
The artists placed the tiny symbol in Madiba's ear, apparently in an attempt not to distract from the statue.
The symbol was selected because they worked to a tight deadline, and because rabbit is translated into Afrikaans as haas, which meant haste. As Mandela loved children, the artists also believed he would have approved of the tiny bunny rabbit signature.
Yet the addition to the statue has clearly upset the Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mahatile. "It is unfortunate that the sculptors chose to place an object in the statue without the knowledge of those who commissioned them," said Mahatile in a statement this week.
"They have since apologised for this and for any offence that may have been given to those who felt their actions disrespected the memory and legacy of Tata Mandela. We accept their apology and that their intentions were honorourable."
The statue was unveiled by President Jacob Zuma on December 16, the day after Mandela's funeral, as part of the annual celebrations of Reconciliation Day and the commemoration of the centenary of the Union Buildings.