Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ceremony to unveil Mandela statue

A statue of former South African President Nelson Mandela is to be unveiled in London.

Mr Mandela, 89, his wife Graca Machel, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be among those at the unveiling in Parliament Square.

Mr Brown hailed Mr Mandela as the "greatest and most courageous leader of our generation".

The late South African anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods had the idea for the 9ft-high (2.7m) bronze statue.

Permission refused

But its fate has been dogged by arguments over where it should go as well as its artistic merit.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, who will also be at the ceremony, had wanted it to stand on the north side of Trafalgar Square.

However, in 2005 Westminster council refused permission saying it would clutter the space needed for large events.

It was finally agreed the statue should face the Houses of Parliament, and stand alongside images of other great leaders such as Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli and Abraham Lincoln.

Lord Richard Attenborough, trustee of the Mandela Statue Fund, will introduce Mr Mandela at the unveiling.

He said: "I find it absolutely wonderful that it stands in the opposite corner to Churchill who was this great man of war and wonderful courage and determination and belief in his feelings.

"Those feelings are epitomised in exactly the same way in terms of the degree of passion but quite opposite."

The ceremony will feature gospel singers and dancers in carnival costume.

Private talks

Mr Woods chose sculptor Ian Walters who started work on the statue six years ago, although he also did not live to see the unveiling.

Staff at the Morris Singer Foundry in Braintree, Essex, have been working to clean and conceal the welds in the huge statue since they took delivery of the bronze.

Alum Palmer, a Fine Art Chaser at the foundry, said: "It's totally unrecognisable as a work of art, and we have to start...cleaning it up, de-coring it, cutting off the runners and he slowly comes to life and at the end of the job it's magnificent."

Mr Brown and former South African president Mr Mandela met for private talks on Tuesday ahead of the ceremony.

A Downing Street aide said the pair had known each other a long time and the talks were a chance to "catch up". Despite favouring Trafalgar Square at the location for the statue, Mr Livingstone said putting the monument in Parliament Square reflected Mr Mandela's significance as a world statesman.

BBC NEWS | UK | Ceremony to unveil Mandela statue