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Mandela Statue Graces Washington DC

  • VOA Staff

Nelson Mandela statue unveiled Saturday at the South African Embassy in Washington DC. (South African Embassy photo)

Nelson Mandela statue unveiled Saturday at the South African Embassy in Washington DC. (South African Embassy photo)

A statue of former South African president Nelson Mandela was unveiled Saturday in Washington DC, USA, at the spot where thousands of Americans from all walks of life symbolically surrendered their liberty to demand Mandela's release from prison and the freedom of millions of South Africans from the bonds of apartheid.

The nine-foot statue by Cape Town sculptor Jean Doyle stands outside South Africa's newly renovated embassy. The figure is modeled from photographs of the South African statesman striding triumphantly to freedom on February 11, 1990, after 28 years of incarceration.

South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and African National Congress (ANC) chair Baleka Mbete were among the dignitaries who flew in for the ceremony.

The US was represented by senior administration officials, members of Congress and civil rights leaders, including the four whose sit-in and arrest at the embassy on November 21, 1984, marked the birth of the ‘Free South Africa Movement’.

They were Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica, Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the US Civil Rights Commission, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and her predecessor as DC delegate, Rev. Walter Fauntroy.

The Free South Africa Movement
Almost every day from Thanksgiving 1983 through the following year, a cross-section of American society, from congressional leaders and celebrities like Stevie Wonder to mothers pushing strollers, gathered at the South African embassy and peaceably had themselves arrested for trespass.

The campaign built momentum toward passage of the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA), a bipartisan measure adopted over President Reagan's veto (as retold in the current hit film The Butler) to put pressure on Pretoria to release Mandela and other political prisoners and begin negotiations for a new non-racial democratic order.

Skadden Arps partner and former White House chief counsel Greg Craig, who as foreign policy adviser to the late Senator Edward Kennedy played a significant role in crafting the CAAA, supported the statue project with legal services.

A plaque at the base of the statue quotes from Mandela's address to a joint session of Congress months after his release in 1990:

"The stand you took established ... that here we have friends ... fighters against racism who feel hurt because we are hurt, who seek our success because they too seek the victory of democracy over tyranny. I speak ... of the millions of people throughout this great land who stood up and engaged the apartheid system in struggle. Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism ... Let us ensure that justice triumphs without delay."

'Golden triangle' of monuments to leaders
The statue, a copy of one that stands outside the Drakenstein Correctional Facility (formerly Victor Verster Prison) outside Cape Town, where Mandela spent his final years in prison, faces onto Massachusetts Avenue, an artery that takes much of Washington's elite to its offices downtown.

"Decisions that affect the world are made by men and women - including the US vice-president - who pass this way every day on their way to and from work. We hope they may draw inspiration from this reminder of a great South African," said Simon Barber, US country manager for Brand South Africa.

Across the road is a statue of Winston Churchill, placed in front of the British ambassador's residence in 1966 by the English Speaking Union, with right hand raised in the trademark Churchill V-for-victory. Mandela's right hand is raised in the fist of a power salute.
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