Mandela

I alight at Waterloo Station and head towards the autumn morning light. Commuters and workmen stand at the entrance, wreathed in smoke. Cranes overhead, still as sculpture. I wait for the colour green at a pedestrian crossing and pass under a railway bridge. Near the South Bank, I see vendors setting up their stalls for the day ahead. It is cold and bright. I ascend a flight of stone steps and encounter a bust of Nelson Mandela outside the Royal Festival Hall. The bronze likeness is set on top of a granite plinth, and bears the inscription “My Struggle Is My Life”. The artist, a political campaigner named Ian Walters, offered the work to the Greater London Council in 1984. It was unveiled in October 1985, and publicly disregarded by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons. When the original was destroyed by fire in an act of racism, a copy was created and unveiled in August 1988. At this time, Nelson Mandela was still serving a life imprisonment sentence for his resistance to South African apartheid, and would not be released until February 1990. I first came to know Nelson Mandela’s name in June 1998, when my grandparents went to see him during his visit to Cardiff; they waited for him outside the Park Hotel on the sixteenth of that month, where he shook their hand and exchanged greetings. My grandmother and grandfather always remembered their encounter fondly, and for years afterwards there was a dogeared copy of his memoir, A Long Walk to Freedom, on their living room bookshelf. It is quiet where I stand, and after a few moments looking at the sculpture I walk on.

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