As if the fake interpreter debacle didn’t cause enough embarrassment for the South African government it has just been discovered that someone tucked a barely visible, bronze sculptured rabbit inside one of the ears of the recently unveiled nine-meter sculpture of Nelson Mandela outside the government complex a day after Mandela’s funeral.
Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, had added a rabbit, said to be a discreet signature, on their work.
The bronze rabbit, sitting on its haunches with one floppy ear, is about half the height of the ear canal.
“It doesn’t belong there,” said Mogomotsi Mogodiri, a department spokesman. “The statue represents what everyone in South Africa is proud of.”
His department said in a statement that there are discussions on “how best to retain the integrity of the sculpture without causing any damage or disfigurement”.
Earlier this week, the South African newspaper Beeld quoted the artists as saying they added the rabbit as a trademark after officials would not allow them to engrave their signatures on the statue’s trousers. They also said the rabbit represented the pressure of finishing the sculpture on time because “haas” – the word for rabbit in the Dutch-based Afrikaans language – also means “haste.”
Paul Mashatile, the arts and culture minister, said the sculptors had apologised for any offence to those who felt the rabbit was disrespectful toward the legacy of Mandela.
“That statue isn’t just a statue of a man, it’s the statue of a struggle, and one of the most noble in human history,” Said Dali Tambo son of anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo. “So it’s belittling, in my opinion, if you then take it in a jocular way and start adding rabbits in the ear.”
He said it would be like depicting Barack Obama with a mouse in his nose.
Tambo’s company, Koketso Growth, a heritage development company was appointed by the government to manage the statute project.
Tambo said the artists, who belong to South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, were selected for their talent but also in part because the project was a multiracial effort in keeping with Mandela’s principle of reconciliation.
He finally agreed that their signatures could be added on the statue in a discreet place, perhaps on Mandela’s heel.