Johannesburg - Nelson Mandela’s 9m-tall bronze statue at the Union Buildings will serve as a symbolic reminder to South Africans that they must try to emulate his legacy of peace, reconciliation and nation-building.
On the day the R8 million statue was unveiled, President Jacob Zuma and leaders of various political parties echoed this sentiment.
Mandela - whose remains were interred at his ancestral village of Qunu, Eastern Cape, on Sunday - was inaugurated at the Union Buildings in 1994 as the first president of a democratic South Africa.
The unveiling of the statue also coincided with the centenary celebration of the Union Buildings.
To mark the occasion, Zuma declared the Union Buildings a national heritage site.
The statue, made by sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, depicts a smiling Mandela with his arms outstretched - a gesture of embracing all people. This is a departure from his conventional pose of a raised, clenched fist.
“This one is different from many. He is standing stretching out his hands. He is embracing the whole nation. You shouldn’t say this is not Madiba because we know (him) with his one (raised) hand,” Zuma quipped.
He added, though, that the Madiba footprint - symbolising South Africa as being on the move and changing from an oppressive, apartheid regime to a democratic state - was the same.
Mandela’s statue was placed on the exact spot where former apartheid regime prime minister JBM Hertzog’s statue once stood. This comes after the government successfully negotiated with Hertzog’s family that his statue be relocated to another spot at the Union Buildings.
Similar to Madiba’s funeral service, the unveiling of his statue was followed by a 21-gun salute and a fly-past by SA Air Force jets.
Former president Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, US civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson and representatives of Mandela’s family, led by Mandla Mandela, were among the dignitaries at Monday’s event.
Zuma said the unveiling of Mandela’s statue was part of a symbolic gesture of the departure from South Africa’s racially segregated past, which was represented by the two Boer Republics and two colonies, to a unified nation.
“The Union Buildings was therefore built on a shaky foundation of racial discrimination and oppression… At this institution, many racial laws were signed which entrenched deep racial divisions against black people, culminating in the adoption of apartheid in 1948.”
Zuma and leaders of various political parties were unanimous in calling for the furtherance of Mandela’s legacy.
Zuma appealed to South Africans to immortalise Mandela’s spirit through their deeds.
“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,” said Zuma, who was received with rapturous applause and chants of “Zuma my president”.
The chants contrasted with last Tuesday’s embarrassing scenes at Mandela’s memorial service at Joburg’s FNB Stadium, where Zuma was repeatedly booed.
Azanian People’s Organisation deputy president Strike Thokoane said: “Our concern today is that politics is no longer the politics of genuine (leadership). So many people are talking rhetoric that sounds progressive when it’s in fact not.”
DA federal chairman Wilmot James said: “Madiba embodied the possibility of sharing and hope that political leaders will put the interests of people first and not themselves.”