Bronze Mandela erected on balcony at Cape Town's City Hall

A waving bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled on the balcony of the Cape Town city hall on Tuesday (Jenna Etheridge, News24)
A waving bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled on the balcony of the Cape Town city hall on Tuesday (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

A life-size bronze statue of a waving Nelson Mandela has been erected where the former statesman gave his first address as a free man in Cape Town on February 11, 1990.

Standing on the balcony of City Hall in Darling Street, the statue will now greet passing residents and tourists as well as well as hawkers who set up their stalls across the road at the Grand Parade every day.

The City and province unveiled the statue on Tuesday to celebrate Mandela's life, his contribution to the country and what would have been his 100th birthday this year.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, 86, was one of the special guests who walked on the red carpet into the hall, later telling an audience: "The journey to rediscover ourselves and others began here".

"I have heard young people questioning whether Madiba was too forgiving. I don't think they understand the condition we were in. Come on," he said while chuckling.

"He [Mandela] switched on the lights and laid a table for us to sit down together. He helped us see what wonderful creations each one of us is. How beautiful, how special, how precious. When you open your eyes, you see not white, black, you see ubuntu." 

On that fateful day some 28 years ago, Mandela had apparently forgotten his glasses in the car from Victor Verster prison and ended up wearing those of his then wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to read his speech to the huge crowd gathered below.

"There was a lot of debate about whether they [the glasses] should be on his face [in the statue] or whether they should be in his hand," sculptor Barry Jackson told News24 on Tuesday.

Jackson, who created the statue with Xhanti Mpakama, said they eventually decided the spectacles and his speech should be in the statue's left hand.

"The women's fashion glasses have nice appeal… but it takes away from his likeness."

The process to create the statue took around four months. It weighs about 120kg and is around 1.9 metres high.

Jackson and Mpakama also worked on the Mandela bust positioned in front of the National Assembly at Parliament.

They were commissioned by Dali Tambo's Koketso Growth, which was awarded the tender for the project.

"Between us and the two creative directors (Tambo and Sarah Haines), we managed to get the pose correct," Jackson said.

"First, they wanted a serious face. Then, not so serious, then a smile."

Mpakama, 43, was born in Willowvale, about 90km from where Mandela grew up in the Eastern Cape.

He said he was excited that the statue was being unveiled.

"I think it is just one of those things you always look up to as an artist, [to say] this is what I have done," he said ahead of the event.

His wife and three kids, whom he often sent photos of his work to for feedback, were proud of him.

Addressing a packed room inside the hall, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille remembered that everyone gasped when they first set sight on Mandela as he came out onto the balcony.

"The truth is it wasn't his best speech... The point is he was speaking and addressing us as one nation. And do you know what a departure that was at that time?"

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille thanked those locally and abroad who campaigned tirelessly for the release of Mandela and other political prisoners.

She said his statue would hopefully remind future generations of the struggle for the country's freedom and remind them of the values that so many fought for.

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