Joburg unveils Mandela statue

2 April 2004

Johannesburg’s Sandton Square has been renamed the Nelson Mandela Square, and celebrated its 10th anniversary – and 10 years of democracy in South Africa – by unveiling the world’s first public statue of the man who led his country across the apartheid divide.

Any toast to Mandela would have to be larger than life – and those who gathered to see his eldest granddaughter, Ndileka, uncover the statue on Wednesday agreed that the six-metre bronze statue exuded his positive vibe.

With champagne glass raised high, the MC at the launch of the new Nelson Mandela Square, Basetsana Kumalo, declared: “This is a very happy statue. The dancing stance pays tribute to the spirit of joy and celebration inherent in the people of South Africa – this is the Madiba jive.”

Paying tribute to her grandfather, Ndileka said: “While we honour Nelson Mandela in this statue, we are also honouring South Africa. He’s not just a grandfather to us, but to the whole nation.”

Known for his humility, Madiba himself did not attend the ceremony. “He’s taking a break”, Ndileka explained.

Given Mandela’s reputation as a champion of the disadvantaged, it was hardly surprising that many were surprised that Sandton Square – seen by many as a symbol of commercial and social elitism – was being renamed in his honour. “Why here? Why not in Alexandra?” some were heard to murmur.

Gary Vipond, Nelson Mandela Square manager, explained: “The square is optimistic, expressive and confident, like the Madiba jive, and represents a sophisticated, eclectic, cosmopolitan success story.

“The donors, who wish to remain anonymous, selected Sandton Square as their preferred site due to its geographical location in the centre of the Sandton CBD, and the fact that it is one of the largest public open spaces in South Africa”, Vipond said.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation hopes to benefit directly from the statue’s tourist appeal: a donation box has been placed beside the statue. Liberty Properties, the landlords, have set the tone with a first donation of R50 000.

Quick facts

  • The statue of Nelson Mandela is six metres tall (higher than 5.9m of the world’s tallest recorded giraffe).
  • It weighs 2.5 tons (the weight of an adult African white rhino).
  • It measures 2.3 metres from elbow to elbow (the maximum wing span of the African fish eagle), and has a shoulder width of 1.7m (almost the width of a luxury sedan).
  • The statue’s shoes measure virtually one metre in length – a boot size very few could fill
  • The statue was sculpted by Kobus Hattingh and Jacob Maponyane.
  • Commissioned in July 2002, the statue was completed in February 2004, and moved to the Square in the middle of the night to be installed ahead of the unveiling.
  • It’s not the first time that a shopping centre has been named after a well-loved leader. There’s also:
    • The Washington Square shopping centre in Oregon, US, named after George Washington.
    • The Roosevelt Square shopping centre in Seattle, US, named after Franklin D Roosevelt.
    • The Regal Eisenhower shopping centre in Savannah, Georgia, US, named after Dwight Eisenhower.
    • The Churchill shopping centre in Brighton, UK, named after Winston Churchill.

Source: City of Johannesburg website