A 10-foot tall statue of Nelson Mandela, his fist raised in a power salute, has been installed outside the South African Embassy in Northwest D.C. -- where activists in the 1980s staged sit-ins and protests that helped spur the U.S. to impose economic sanctions against apartheid.
Randall Robinson, founder of TransAfrica; Mary Frances Berry, former chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; former D.C. delegate, Rev. Walter Fauntroy; and current delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton attended the unveiling Saturday.
Those four staged their protest on the day before Thanksgiving in 1984, when they arrived for a meeting with the South African ambassador and never left.
"We knew that once they announced they weren't going to leave, the press wouldn't be there too long. So we asked about 50 people to show," Sylvia Hill, a professor of criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia, told WAMU. "We had a picket line chanting 'Free South Africa and Free Nelson Mandela!'"
A quote at the bottom of the statue remembers that first stand. It quotes Mandela, former president of South Africa, saying:
"The stand you took established…that here we have friends…fighters against racism who feel hurt because we are hurt, who seek our success because they too seek the victory of democracy over tyranny. I speak…of the millions of people throughout this great land who stood up and engaged the apartheid system in struggle. Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism…Let us ensure that justice triumphs without delay."
The statue is an exact copy of the statue that sits outside a facility in South Africa where Mandela spent his final years of a 27-year prison sentence for fighting the apartheid system.
People who visit the statue will notice an interesting juxtaposition: Across Massachusetts Avenue from the statue is the British Ambassador's office and a statue of Winston Churchill. His hand is also raised, in a V-for-Victory salute.
The closeness led South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool to quip that Churchill was holding up scissors, and Mandela's fist was like a rock.
"As you know, rock beats scissors," he said in a statement.