After seven years of speculation and debate, London today finally unveiled its tribute to Nelson Mandela.
The 9’ high, 1 tonne statue was unveiled by the man himself in the presence of an impressive cast of London’s ‘great and good’, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Ken Livingstone and Lord Richard Attenborough. The proceedings were watched by a vast and cheering crowd, and overseen by Disraeli, Churchill, Lincoln and former South African leader Jan Smuts from their nearby plinths.
The ceremony was poignant for a number of reasons, quite apart from the decades of hardship and apartheid that it represents. For one thing, two of the people who were at the core of the project died before seeing it come to fruition: Donald Woods, who instigated the idea of the statue in the first place, and Ian Walters, the sculptor. Londonist actually felt a lump in the old throat when it read the following quote from Mr. Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, pertaining to a visit to London:
“When we saw the statue of General Smuts near Westminster Abbey, Oliver (Tambo, fellow campaigner) and I joked that perhaps someday there would be a statue of us in its stead.”
The former president has been honoured all over the world, and this is only one of many statues crafted in his honour – but we are sure that he too would have been in equal parts chuffed and moved today.
But Londonist is a bit embarassed about all the hoo-ha surrounding the statue in the first place. London is pretty good at most stuff, like parades and protests and art and theatre…well, the list is endless. But sometimes it is not very good at making decisions, and the fact that it took seven years to get this tribute sorted amid petty argy-bargy and nationalist tirades is farcical.
Londonist is also slightly tickled by the irony of the Mandela statue, a beacon for liberty and free-speech, being erected in Parliament Square, where currently protestors are far from free to protest.
Impressively timely image courtesy of zefrog’s flickr stream.