LONDON -- Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the antiapartheid struggle yesterday as Britain unveiled a towering statue in his honor outside the Houses of Parliament, saying it symbolized the sacrifices made by all who fight oppression.
Speaking to thousands of supporters as African hymns echoed from the walls of Westminster Abbey, the 89-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate recalled the many brave men and women who joined the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.
"The history of the struggle in South Africa is rich with the stories of heroes and heroines, some of them leaders, some of them followers. All of them deserve to be remembered," Mandela declared after Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveiled the statue.
"Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolize all those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country."
Mandela came to personify the black majority's struggle to end apartheid, spending 27 years in jail before being released in 1990. He would eventually negotiate the transition to democratic rule, serving as South Africa's president until he left office in 1999.
Well-wishers packed London's Parliament Square to watch Brown unveil the 9-foot bronze statue in a ceremony marked by gospel music, dancing, and South African anthems. London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and antiapartheid activists also attended.
Brown said it was fitting that Mandela, who he called "the great liberator," joined statues of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill in the square.
"Nelson Mandela is one of the most courageous and best-loved men of all time," Brown said. "You will be here with us always."
For many in the crowd, Mandela's statue was a sight they could never have imagined possible. The late antiapartheid leader Oliver Tambo unveiled a bust of Mandela near the Royal Festival Hall in south London in 1985, but Mandela is one of the few foreign leaders to be so honored at the seat of Britain's government.
Mandela appeared frail as he made his way to the platform, leaning on his wife, Graca Machel, but spoke clearly as he invited the crowd to celebrate his 90th birthday next year at a concert in London's Hyde Park in support of his efforts to combat AIDS. The concert will support his foundation, which is called "46664" -- the number he wore in prison.