Mandela's legacy, cast in bronze

Clutching his speech and a pair of glasses, borrowed from Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Madiba raised his hand while standing on the balcony of City Hall.


This moment – which will remain etched into the memory of the 250 000 people who heard his first speech as a free man – has been captured and preserved in bronze.


The iconic moment in which Nelson Mandela gave his speech in February 1990 has been captured in a new monument which was unveiled at City Hall last week, on the same balcony from which he spoke.


Freezing this moment in time fell on two local artists: Barry Jackson and Xhanti Mpakama.

The tender for the statue was awarded to Koketso Growth, headed up by Dali Tambo.

They commissioned Jackson and Mpakama to complete the tribute, a moment that left Jackson feeling “elated and extremely proud”.


“That [statue is going] to stand there for however long, and my grandkids are going to take their grandkids to see it and say: ‘My grandfather was part of the team that made this’.”

Mpakama felt similar feelings, but adds that there was also an element of pressure added to the commission. “The one thing, as a sculptor, is that you always want to do a statue of Madiba,” he says.


“[But at the same time you are also scared] because you know it has to be your best … People have expectations and at the end of the day it’s not about your own satisfaction­.”

Tambo says the process began with answering the question: “How do we recall that moment in time best?”


“We wanted it to be perfect, it’s going to be there for more than 300 years with some waxing and polishing, and so you want people, now and in the future, to be gifted by it, to remember that special moment. That moment in time was precious for the country and precious for him as he tasted freedom for the first time, and precious for the world as it signalled the end of apartheid. It’s a beautiful representation and the artists did very well,” he says.


The statue stands 1.95m tall and weighs 120kg. It was cast in bronze at Sculpting Casting Services in Strand. Mandela wears a grey suit identical to the one worn on the day and even his accessories, including a polka-dot print tie, belt buckle and a white pocket square have been included as details.

The artists started by collecting reference material and photos of Mandela and the day he gave his speech. As this was before the digital era, many photos were not of great quality, Jackson explains. Jackson even had a model pose in a similar suit, in his garage, so that he could ensure the folds of the material were correct.


Having a number of role players involved added its own complexity, Jackson says.


The artists originally depicted Mandela with a “severe” expression on his face, Jackson explains, as he was quite stressed in the moment of his speech. But they were asked to redo Mandela’s face to “lighten [him] up a bit” and make the statue more appealing to “people walking past on the street”.

In the statue’s hand, Mandela holds a page bearing the first paragraph from the speech. The same text is also featured in braille on the page. He also holds a pair of spectacles in his hand. On the day, Mandela had left his glasses in the car and borrowed a pair from Winnie Mandela. In photographs from the day, he is seen wearing the large frames.


The artists were also originally asked to include the borrowed pair of “pink ladies’ fashion” glasses and place them on Mandela’s face, something Jackson felt would detract from his expression. The compromise was reached in including them in his hand, along with his speech, says Jackson.


Mpakama explains the process of making the statue, saying they initially created a small maquette only 35cm tall. Once this was approved, it was 3D printed at full size in foam that could be easily carved. This form was then refined by the artists, using a kind of putty, before it was cast in bronze.

Jackson and Mpakama were involved in the bronze bust of Madiba at Parliament and worked together to create the Nelson Mandela statue which leads the Long March to Freedom parade of statues created by Dali Tambo in Pretoria. Individually, the two artists also sculpted several of the 100 statues in the Long March to Freedom.