Mandela, the statue without a home

As the finishing touches are put to the £400,000 sculpture, the capital's authorities are still arguing about where to put it
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The Independent Online

The latest plan sees the work, to which the sculptor Ian Walters is now putting the finishing touches, standing on a plinth in London's Parliament Square. It could be in place by the end of this year.

Chris Smith, the former culture secretary, welcomed the news last night: "Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest figures of the last century. It is entirely appropriate that he should be honoured in this way."

The issue of where the statue should stand remains the cause of dispute. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, had pledged to support the Trafalgar Square option when he was re-elected in 2003, but his plan was opposed by Westminster City Council, English Heritage and the nearby National Gallery.

It eventually went to an inquiry held by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which rejected the plan last year because it would compromise the "uncluttered" nature of the area. Now, after long negotiations, the Greater London Authority and Westminster are agreed that a site close to Parliament would be an acceptable home for the standing figure of the 87-year-old, his hands raised in gesture as if giving a speech.

However, there is still some squabbling over the finer details. Mr Livingstone is understood to want the statue in the centre of the square while Conservative-controlled Westminster council would prefer it at the western edge.

Mr Mandela has long been resistant to statues being erected in his honour at home in South Africa, but gave his blessing to the London figure, which was the brainchild of Donald Woods, the late South African anti-apartheid campaigner, and film director Lord Attenborough, who led the fundraising efforts.

Mr Walters, who has previously modelled Mr Mandela for a bust placed outside London's Royal Festival Hall, said: "I've always known that I have a very successful piece of sculpture here that is very appropriate to people's conception of Mandela. It is the sort of thing that everyone who has seen it responds to, and I think it will be very successful in Parliament Square.

"I just hope that something will be done to make Parliament Square more accessible to people so they can see the sculpture properly."

Mr Walters, who has completed the plaster version of his statue in readiness for it to be cast in bronze, would prefer it to be placed close to Westminster Abbey.

A spokesman for Westminster City Council said the authority was working to find "a suitable location" in the square. The GLA said negotiations were still ongoing, but added: "We very much look forward to the statue of Nelson Mandela on Parliament Square Garden as soon as possible as a fitting tribute to a man who symbolises one of the most important struggles for justice in the 20th century."