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Nelson Mandela salutes apartheid resistance at London unveiling of his statue

Nelson Mandela salutes apartheid resistance at London unveiling of his statue

Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the anti-apartheid struggle Wednesday as Britain's leader pulled a rainbow-striped veil from a statue in his honor and lionized the South African as one of the best-loved statesmen of all time.
Speaking to thousands of supporters as African hymns echoed from the walls of Westminster Abbey, the 89-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner said the statue was a tribute he could only dare to have dreamed of.
"Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolize all those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country," 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."
Mandela came to personify the black majority's struggle to end apartheid, spending 27 years in jail before being released in 1990. He would eventually negotiate the transition to democratic rule, serving as South Africa's president until he left office in 1999.
Well-wishers packed London's Parliament Square to watch Brown unveil the 9-foot (2.75-meter) bronze statue in a ceremony marked by gospel music, carnival-style dancing, and South African anthems. London Mayor Ken Livingstone, U.S. civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and anti-apartheid activists also attended.
Brown said it was fitting that Mandela, who he called "the great liberator," joined statues of "the great emancipator," U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, and British wartime leader Winston Churchill in watching over the square.
"Nelson Mandela is one of the most courageous and best-loved men of all time," Brown said. "You will be here with us always."
For many in the crowd, Mandela's statue, its polished brown hands stretching toward London's Houses of Parliament, was a sight they could never have imagined possible. The late anti-apartheid leader Oliver Tambo unveiled a bust of Mandela near the Royal Festival Hall in south London in 1985, but Mandela is one of the rare foreign leaders to be so honored at the seat of Britain's government.
"I never even thought we would even live to see Mandela freed from prison," said Eddie Fennings, a 43-year-old energy broker. "Much less this."
Ola Onanuga, a 44-year-old financial adviser, said she had protested and marched as Mandela languished in jail. Now she was bringing her daughter to the square to give her a glimpse at what she called a "one of a kind" politician.
"He's someone that our generation and the younger generation will never again see," she said.
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.
The campaign to erect a statue of 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.
Livingstone had campaigned for the Mandela sculpture, designed by the late Ian Walters, to be placed in Trafalgar Square, which is dominated by the monument to the 19th-century naval hero Adm. Horatio Nelson.
A constant vigil was held in Trafalgar Square for Mandela's release from prison during the years of apartheid rule in South Africa. Mandela has spoken to crowds in the square since his release from prison in 1990.
But Westminster Council's planning committee, which had the final say, decided the statue should go in Parliament Square, saying it was a more suitable location.
The statue was a vindication of sorts for Mandela, who once strolled through the square with Tambo.
Among the statues they saw in the square was one honoring 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 Gen. Smuts near Westminster Abbey, Oliver and I joked that perhaps someday there would be a statue of us in its stead," Mandela wrote in his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom."
"Oliver would have been proud today if he were here," Mandela said Wednesday, as the crowd erupted into laughter and applause.
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On the Net:
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Updated : 2021-02-27 17:57 GMT+08:00