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A replica of the statue of Nelson Mandela, fist raised as he leaves Groot Drakenstein Prison in Paarl, is set to become the first statue of the former statesman to be erected in the US.
The larger than life-size statue is to get a new home outside the SA Embassy in Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC, joining those of several other statesmen including the world’s other most renowned peace icons – Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Earlier this year Ebrahim Rasool, SA’s ambassador to the US, commissioned Cape Town sculptor Jean Doyle to create a copy of the statue she made, which stands outside the gates of what was formerly the Victor Verster Prison.
Visiting the city on Friday, Rasool checked on Doyle’s progress.
He told Independent Newspapers they were renovating the SA Embassy in Washington and decided to add a statue of Mandela.
“I was invited to speak at the opening of the Martin Luther King memorial and, while I was contemplating what to say, it struck me that we were unveiling the Martin Luther King statue while, further down Massachusetts Avenue, we have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Washington is a city filled with statues of war heroes from World War II and Korea, so we decided South Africa would close the golden triangle of peace heroes – a triangle of people who brought about change through peaceful means.”
At the opening of the King memorial, Rasool announced that the SA Embassy would donate to Washington a statue of Mandela, to join those of King and Gandhi.
“They will hopefully be an inspiration to many to solve problems globally in a peaceful way. It was clear that what we needed was a bit of the politics and diplomacy of ubuntu,” he said.
Several people were interested in creating the sculpture, but they were firm that it had to be Doyle.
“Of all the statues of Nelson Mandela that I’ve seen, the one that impressed me the most is hers.”
Another reason they chose the statue with Mandela’s fist raised in defiance, was because of a standing joke with his British counterpart.
“We wanted Mandela with his fist up because opposite our embassy stands Winston Churchill with his V-for-victory sign, and we always joke with the British ambassador that rock beats scissors.”
The Mandela statue will also be near the memorial to Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran.
Funding for the statue was raised in a unique play on the 67 minutes of service South Africans do in Mandela’s name on his birthday every year: “There’s been so much enthusiasm. What we did in the US was to say if you are a student can you give 67 US cents, or $67, or $670 US dollars – and that’s how we started raising funds.” Any remaining funds will go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.
Doyle said when she got the call earlier this year to create a replica statue, she felt privileged and excited. Even though she’d done it before, she spent weeks on research.
“Tokyo Sexwale commissioned the one outside the prison, and they gave us the go-ahead to use the same moulds for the statue in Washington,” she said.