A bronze rabbit nestled in the ear of the recently unveiled Nelson Mandela statue has angered the South African Government, which has ordered sculptors to remove the animal and “restore the statue back to dignity”.
The 30ft-high bronze statue stands outside the government’s headquarters known as the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Portraying Mr Mandela with his arms outstretched the current South African President, Jacob Zuma, said it is designed to reflect that he had embraced the entire nation.
Upon closer inspection, a bronze statue of a rabbit can be seen peering out from inside the ear.
South Africa's Beeld newspaper quoted the sculptors as saying 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".
It also stands as a trademark because officials prohibited them from engraving their signature on the statue's trousers.
The department of arts and culture said it didn't know the two sculptors, Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, had added a rabbit. “It doesn't belong there,” Mogomotsi Mogodiri, a department spokesman said. “The statue represents what everyone in South Africa is proud of.”
He also told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that it was not appropriate "because Nelson Mandela never had a rabbit on his ear".
His department said in a statement that discussions are currently underway on “how best to retain the integrity of the sculpture without causing any damage or disfigurement".
Paul Mashatile, arts and culture minister, said the sculptors have apologized for any offence to those who felt the rabbit was disrespectful toward the legacy of Mandela.
The government had appointed Koketso Growth, a heritage development company, to manage the statue project. The CEO of Koketso Growth, Dali Tambo, who is the son of the anti-apartheid figure Oliver Tambo, said he was furious when he heard about the rabbit, and said it must go.
"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," Tambo said. "So it's belittling, in my opinion, if you then take it in a jocular way and start adding rabbits in the ear."
Anti-apartheid icon Mr Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison to become president in 1994 after the country's first all-race democratic elections. He gave his inaugural address from the amphitheatre, which was named after him by decree.
The statue was unveiled on South Africa's Day of Reconciliation, a holiday which marks the end of racial conflict in the country.
Additional reporting by Associated PressReuse content