Mandela stands tall at Union Buildings

Madiba3-text Madiba’s statue stands tall at the Union Buildings.
(Image: SANews.gov.za )

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The massive statue by sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Jansen Van Vuuren, which captures the spirit of Mandela with its outstretched arms, was unveiled by President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Monday 16 December, and was the culmination of the 10-day mourning period for the late former president.

Madiba passed away on 5 December at his Houghton home in Johannesburg after a lengthy illness.

This giant of a man referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba or “Tata” (Father), and also described as the “the father of the nation”, united the country’s citizens in death as he did in life, as thousands flocked to the Union Buildings to witness first-hand the unveiling of the newest addition to the memorial statues found in the capital city.

In an address by President Zuma at the unveiling, he welcomed dignitaries and special guests at the seat of government, a day after laying to rest “one of the greatest leaders ever produced by our country and the African continent, our former President Nelson Mandela”.

He acknowledged: “It has been a difficult period for our country, for Africa and for our friends all over the world.

“The official mourning period came to an end last night at midnight and the national flag has been raised at all posts.”

Our greatest sorrow

Zuma referred to Mandela’s death as “the moment of our greatest sorrow as the rainbow nation”. But he urged: “There should now be no more tears. We must celebrate Madiba and take forward his legacy. He should live in our hearts and inspire us to do something good every single day, to honour his memory. In that way, the pain of his passing will be eased every single day.”

It was befitting that on the day the country marked national reconciliation, it recommitted itself to peace, forgiveness, tolerance and reconciliation – all the values of the presidency of Madiba – with the unveiling of the statue.

“Under his leadership, the national Day of Reconciliation became a symbol of our collective victory over our divided past as a nation. We made a conscious decision to work for national unity and reconciliation.

“It is therefore, of great historical significance that we are marking National Reconciliation Day 2013 by officially unveiling the nine metre statue of Madiba, the man who encouraged us to look beyond our differences and become one nation, united in our diversity,” said Zuma.

South Africans commemorate the Day of Reconciliation on 16 December annually. During these celebrations, citizens are encouraged to remember the sacrifices that thousands made so that the country could be free and people can live in peace and prosperity.

“In his humility, Madiba left it to the South African people to celebrate his life and legacy and to decide how he should be remembered,” said Zuma, quoting Mandela:

“It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I’d leave that entirely to South Africans. I would just like a simple stone on which is written, ‘Mandela’.”

Fitting tribute

This new statue at the Union Buildings is a fitting tribute to the contribution Madiba made to South Africa and the world.

“The Madiba monument will not merely enhance the attraction and gravitas of the Union Buildings as a national heritage site,” said Zuma. “It will also remind the nation daily about the values of unity, reconciliation, compassion and Ubuntu.

“The statue will forever remind us of Madiba’s towering vision and stature. It will remind us of his commitment, his leadership and his dedication to the struggle against apartheid. It will forever remind us of his commitment to an improved quality of life for all. It will also remind us of how far we have come as a nation in just a few years. The glaring reality is that before 1994, there would have been no statue of Madiba at the Union Buildings.”

The site of the statue had previously housed the statue of former Prime Minister James Barry Hertzog, who led a white nationalist government from 1924-1939, noted Zuma.

“Following an exhaustive consultation process, and in the spirit of reconciliation that our country has become renowned for, the representatives of former Prime Minister Hertzog agreed that his statue be relocated to another spot in the Union Buildings in order to make way for Madiba’s statue.”

Union Buildings turns 100

This year, the seat of government, the Union Buildings, which was completed in 1913, turns 100.

Zuma noted, “The two identical West and East Wings of the Union Buildings were intended to each represent the English and the Afrikaner groups.

“The union was thus the union of the two groups. The black majority was excluded from this union and from governance in general. The Union Buildings was therefore built on a shaky foundation of racial discrimination and oppression. It rapidly mutated into a source of anger in the country and in the world at large.”

The Union Buildings is also more well-known for the historic 1956 march which saw more than 20 000 women, protesting against pass laws, end their march at the buildings. The first democratic national general elections on April 27, 1994, marked the end of a Union Buildings that existed to serve only one section of society.

It was at the very buildings, at the recently renamed “Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre” specifically, that Madiba was inaugurated as head of state of a new South Africa, in 1994. The Union Buildings became Madiba’s office and a symbol of legitimate authority.

It was also at the Union Buildings that Madiba lay in state for three days, from 11 to 13 December. Tens of thousands of people from all walks of life filed past to pay homage to the “father of the nation”.

Zuma said, “As we celebrate 100 years of the Union Buildings today, we do so satisfied and happy that this seat of government is now not only rich in terms of its aesthetic beauty only. It is also rich in moral value and symbolism as well.

“By declaring the Union Buildings as a national heritage site, we are acknowledging its historic significance and affirming its value as one of the sites that houses our nation’s heritage.

“While we acknowledge the past, we are also emphasise that we are now one nation and that our national symbols need to reflect that unity in diversity.”