Video: Nelson Mandela tribute

updated 8/29/2007 11:42:18 AM ET 2007-08-29T15:42:18

Britain unveiled a statue of Nelson Mandela on Wednesday outside the houses of Parliament, honoring the South African anti-apartheid campaigner as one of the great leaders of his era.

Mandela, 89, saluted all the South African heroes who joined him in the struggle against apartheid.

“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 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.”

Joins Lincoln, Churchill
The 9-foot bronze statue of Mandela joins those of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill in Parliament Square.

Mandela appeared frail as he made his way to the platform, leaning on the arm of his wife, Graca Machel. But he 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.

Brown called the statue “a beacon of hope.”

“It sends around the world the most powerful of messages — that no injustice can last forever, that suffering in the cause of freedom will never be in vain, that no matter how long the night of oppression, the morning of liberty will break through, and there is nothing that we the peoples of the world, working together, cannot achieve.”

Mayor Ken Livingstone, anti-apartheid campaigners and community leaders also attended the ceremony outside Parliament, close to Westminster Abbey. There was a gospel choir and 40 dancers in carnival costumes.

Personified struggle
Mandela came to personify the black majority’s struggle to end apartheid, spending 27 years in jail before being released in 1990. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with then-President F.W. de Klerk for negotiating the transition to democratic rule, and the following year Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

He left office in 1999, but has continued to lead in the fight against poverty, illiteracy and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

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.

It was an honor that the young Mandela dared to dream of.

In his autobiography, Mandela said that during a visit to London in 1962 with his law partner and fellow anti-apartheid leader, the late Oliver Tambo, they walked together through Parliament Square, and joked that perhaps someday, their statues would stand there.

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