31 August 2007
Former South African President Nelson Mandela was in London on Wednesday to attend the unveiling of the statue placed in Parliament Square in honour of his contribution to the struggle against apartheid.
Dignitaries at the unveiling included British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, philanthropist Lord Richard Attenborough and anti-apartheid campaigner Wendy Woods, while thousands of members of the public also attended.
The unveiling followed a seven-year campaign by Livingstone, Woods and Attenborough, following the initial proposal in 2000 by Woods’ late husband and fellow anti-apartheid activist, Donald, to have a statue of Mandela erected in central London.
Livingstone said the statue, placed among statues of other statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and former South African statesman Jan Smuts, would demonstrate that the struggle to overcome the apartheid state amounted to a struggle for universal human rights.
“Nelson Mandela’s struggle came to symbolise the very idea of a better world, a world in which the most fundamental rights are available to each and every human being, and this is why his statue is such an appropriate addition to one of our most important squares,” Livingstone said.
“Allowing his statue to be placed in a prominent position in one of the world’s most famous squares, facing the British Parliament, underlines Mandela’s special relationship with Britain and London through the long years of struggle against apartheid.”
Mandela said he was humbled at being honoured in such a way, and never dreamed of such an event occurring. He reminded those in attendance that while the statue was of one man, it should symbolise all those who resisted oppression, especially South Africans.
“The history of struggle in South Africa is rich with the stories of heroes and heroines, some of them leaders, some of them followers,” he said. “All of them deserve to be remembered.”
Woods was delighted that the nine-foot statue was finally erected, adding that Parliament Square was a fitting place to acknowledge Mandela’s statesmanship and international stature.
Donald Woods chose sculptor Ian Walters to undertake the project, because of his sculpture of Mandela in South Bank, London as well as his links with the anti-apartheid movement.
Walters began working on a clay bust in 2001, when he travelled to Mandela’s home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, spending nine hours capturing his subject. He completed the clay model of the statue just before his death in 2006, and chose Nigel Boonham to supervise the completion of the statue.
“When Oliver Tambo and I visited Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square in 1962, we half-joked that we hoped that one day a statue of a black person would be erected here alongside General Smuts,” Mandela reminisced. “Oliver would have been proud today.”
While at the unveiling, Mandela announced that his international Aids campaign, 46664, would host a concert in Hyde Park on 27 June 2008 as part of his 90th birthday celebrations.
“I want very much to be back in London to attend this concert, and I hope to see you there,” he said.