SA moves on after Mandela laid to rest

2013-12-16 22:47
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - On a public holiday dedicated to reconciliation, South Africans started coming to terms with the loss of Nelson Mandela, unveiling a giant statue on Monday to honour his struggle for equality.

A day after he was buried with full honours in Qunu a 9mbronze likeness was unveiled in the vast gardens of the Union Buildings.

This is where generations of apartheid heads of state signed many of the racial laws Mandela spent most of his life fighting against, but also where he was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president in 1994.

Last week, up to 100 000 people stood there in hours-long queues to file past Mandela's open casket as he lay in state for three days.

President Jacob Zuma presided over the unveiling of the effigy of a smiling Mandela in mid-stride, arms outstretched in a welcoming gesture, sporting a trademark "Madiba shirt".

Zuma said the open-armed gesture denoted that "South Africa is now a democratic country, he is embracing the entire nation, he is advancing to the nation to say: 'let us come together, let us unite'”.

For 50 million compatriots, Mandela was not just a statesman and president, but a moral guide who led their polarised country away from internecine racial conflict.

"Yes, he has a history of struggle, and yes, he used to be a soldier, but now we wanted to create a peaceful figure that embraced the whole nation, the whole South Africa," sculptor Andre Prinsloo, who helped assemble the colossus, told AFP.

The 4.5-ton statue is the largest of many erected around the world in honour of the anti-apartheid hero.

"When one looks at comrade Madiba's statue out there... it is almost like we are hitting the last nail in the coffin of apartheid," Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of the ruling ANC, told the ceremony.

"Now our father is up there saying to the world we have defeated apartheid."

The towering effigy had been planned long before Mandela's death.

Built at a cost of R8m, it replaces a statue of Barry Hertzog, an Afrikaner nationalist who was prime minister of South Africa from 1924 to 1939.

Zuma thanked a representative of the Hertzog family who attended the ceremony for granting permission to move the Afrikaner's statue elsewhere in the gardens.

And he announced the Union Buildings would become a national heritage site, "to write a new and inclusive narrative for our country".

"We are now one nation and... our national symbols need to reflect that unity in diversity," the president said.

'Reconciliation, peace, that's what this is about'

South Africans gathered at the Union Buildings to follow the unveiling on big screens as a 21-gun salute rang out and air force jets flew over in a "missing man" formation usually reserved for honouring a fallen pilot.

"Reconciliation, peace, that's what this is about," said Afrikaner Retha Jansen, 63, who came to be part of history.

Zuma stressed that for true reconciliation to be possible, "glaring socio-economic disparities" still had to be corrected.

The Day of Reconciliation was first marked in 1995.

Before that, 16 December had been commemorated by Afrikaners, the custodians of apartheid, for over 150 years to mark a 1838 victory over Zulu warriors in the Battle of Blood River.

But 16 December is also the anniversary of the founding of the ANC's military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Zuma described the loss of Mandela as "the moment of our greatest sorrow as the Rainbow Nation" - a term coined for country's different races uniting in peace.

But "there should be no more tears. We must celebrate and take forward his legacy," the president said.

"Let us all get back to work tomorrow, to build the South Africa that Madiba sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison for."

Ten days of official mourning ended at midnight Sunday, and the national flag went back to flying at full-mast.

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