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Immodest statue for modest Mandela

Johannesburg, Nov. 17: Nelson Mandela is said to be “more embarrassed than flattered” by plans to erect a 330-feet statue of him, which will be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty.

The proposed “Statue of Freedom”, to be made from metals mined in South Africa, will tower above the windswept harbour of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province, where he was born. New York’s Statue of Liberty is 305 feet high.

The project’s backers, a consortium of local businessmen and civic authorities, have been given the go-ahead by the ANC-ruled regional government to produce detailed plans by next March with the aim of completing the statue — expected to become one of the country’s main tourist attractions — by 2006.

“The intention is not so much to idolise Mandela but to use his image to symbolise his significance in the liberation of Africa and the start of the continent’s renaissance,” said a spokesman for the consortium. “Modest though he is, we are sure he will approve once he appreciates how this statue can help revive fortunes through tourist revenues.”

Early proposals had the former South African leader gazing southwards with a raised clenched fist, but it was pointed out that he would appear to be making an aggressive and rather futile gesture towards the uninhabited Antarctic wastelands. Later modifications have him on a revolving platform with a raised open hand, a more peaceful gesture.

The actual statue will be 195 feet high, on a 135 feet high plinth which will house a “museum of freedom’ in which struggles for liberation around the world will be celebrated.

The 5,000 visitors a year who are expected to make the pilgrimage will reach the monument along a 600-yard promenade to be named the “long walk to freedom” after the title of Mandela’s autobiography.

The consortium has approached the French government for backing, hoping that a French foundry will cast the statue. France built and donated the Statue of Liberty to New York to mark the centenary of the American declaration of independence.

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