Sarah Gough discusses the unusual case of Nelson Mandela’s memorial
Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid revolutionary and legendary human rights activist, is continuing to cause controversy even posthumously. His 30 foot bronze statue was unveiled in South Africa’s capital Pretoria in December, on the day after his burial. It was a symbol of his inspirational legacy, hope and community – a truly moving piece of art. As such, Mandela is presented with a beaming face, outstretched arms and a miniature rabbit in his ear. Wait…what?!
On closer inspection of the statue, it was found that the sculptors, Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren had added a tiny rabbit to Mandela’s earhole. In interview, they claim the unsolicited bunny represents the pressure of finishing the sculpture on time – ‘haas’, the word for rabbit in the Dutch-based Afrikaans language, also means ‘haste’. They also assert the rabbit to be their trademark, as officials would not let them sign Mandela’s trousers. Perhaps that is the rational decision to make: ‘they won’t let us sign our names on his butt cheek, let’s just put a rabbit in his earhole instead’!
South Africa’s government have ordered the sculptors to remove the rabbit. Spokesman for the Department of Arts and Culture, Mogomotsi Mogodiri, showed great insight into the issue when speaking to the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme: “We don’t think it’s appropriate because Nelson Mandela never had a rabbit on his ear”.Excellent, well done Mogomotsi – stating the obvious award goes to you. You are correct of course, Mandela never did house any animals in his ear but in the same vein, he was not 30 foot or entirely bronze either. Though those are merely minor technicalities, I suppose, compared to the discordance of a mini mammal on his face.
Whilst this entire dispute may seem insignificant in comparison to Mandela’s life struggle, it does emphasise how much the symbolic statue means to so many South Africans. When the Saddam Hussein regime was ousted from Iraq more than a decade ago, millions watched as his statue was toppled, a symbol of his defeat. Having fallen, the crowd surged forward, chanting and jeering, kicking and hitting it. They then severed and chained the head, dragging it through the streets – what was iconic of Hussein’s authority, became synonymous with utter hatred, destruction and contempt.
Mandela’s rabbit could not seem more innocuous in comparison with Hussein’s bashing. Whilst it may be deemed a fairly foolish stunt by the sculptors, it is fitting that the subject of controversy is placed in the ear of a man who listened to a matter of global injustice and acted upon it. Therefore I say: don’t just reject and dismiss the unusual or the unexpected, embrace it. That was Mandela’s message after all and what better message to the world is that, Mogomotsi Mogodiri? Let Mandela’s ear rabbit rest in peace. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
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