Mandela Salutes Resistance as Statue Unveiled

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the Sydney Morning Herald/Australia

Mandela Salutes Resistance as Statue Unveiled

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Nelson Mandela saluted the heroes of South Africa's struggle against apartheid at the unveiling of his statue at a ceremony in London recognising him as one of the greatest leaders of the age.

Mr Mandela, 89, said the statue - which joins those of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill in London's Parliament Square - was a symbol for all those who resisted oppression. 0830 04

"Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolise all those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country," Mr Mandela said at the ceremony attended by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"The history of the struggle in South Africa is rich with the stories of heroes and heroines, some of them leaders, some of them followers. All of them deserve to be remembered."

Mr Mandela appeared frail as he made his way to the platform, leaning on the arm of his wife, Graca Machel, but spoke clearly as he invited the crowd to celebrate his 90th birthday next year at a concert in London's Hyde Park in support of his efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

The concert will support his foundation, which is called "46664" - the number he wore in prison.

Mr Brown called the statue "a beacon of hope".

"It sends around the world the most powerful of messages - that no injustice can last forever, that suffering in the cause of freedom will never be in vain, that no matter how long the night of oppression, the morning of liberty will break through, and there is nothing that we the peoples of the world, working together, cannot achieve."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, anti-apartheid campaigners and community leaders also attended the ceremony outside Britain's Parliament, close to Westminster Abbey, along with a gospel choir and 40 dancers in carnival costume.

Mr Mandela came to personify the black majority's struggle to end apartheid, spending 27 years in jail before being released in 1990.

He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with then-President F.W. de Klerk for negotiating the transition to democratic rule, and the following year Mr Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

He left office in 1999, but has continued to take a leading role in the fight against poverty, illiteracy and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The campaign to erect a statue of Mr Mandela in London was started seven years ago by the late Donald Woods, a South African journalist who was driven into exile because of his anti-apartheid activities.

"The world has perceived in Mr Mandela qualities of power of endurance, strength of mind, integrity, absence of bitterness, inclusiveness," said Wendy Woods, the journalist's widow.

"It is the recognition of these qualities that has transcended South Africa's political boundaries and inspired people across the world."

The 2.75-metre bronze statue was an honour that the Mr Mandela dared to dream of as a young man.

In his autobiography, he said that, during a visit to London in 1972 with his law partner and fellow anti-apartheid leader, the late Oliver Tambo, they had walked together through Parliament Square, admiring the majestic buildings around it.

Among the statues they saw was one honouring South Africa's former Prime Minister Jan Smuts, a leader in the Boer rebellion against Britain at the turn of the century and later a member of the British cabinet under David Lloyd George during World War I.

"When we saw the statue of General Smuts near Westminster Abbey, Oliver and I joked that perhaps someday there would be a statue of us in its stead," Mr Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

"Oliver would have been proud today if he were here," Mr Mandela said.

Mr Livingstone had campaigned for the Mandela sculpture, designed by the late Ian Walters, to be placed in Trafalgar Square, which contains the monuments to the 19th-century naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, atop a 56-metre column.

A constant vigil was held in Trafalgar Square for Mr Mandela's release from prison during the years of apartheid rule in South Africa. Mr Mandela has spoken to crowds in the square since his release from prison.

But Westminster Council's planning committee, which had the final say, decided the statue should go in Parliament Square, saying that was a more suitable location.

Copyright © 2007. The Sydney Morning Herald.

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