JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's president urged voters to head to the polls next week in the spirit of "democracy and freedom" as he unveiled a large bronze bust of the country's most famous anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in front of Parliament on Monday.
"May the spirit of Madiba also inspire all South Africans as they vote yet again on the 7th of May," President Jacob Zuma said in Cape Town, referring to Mandela by his clan name and revealing a bronze sculpture on a granite plinth standing more than 2 meters (yards) high.
South Africans are celebrating 20 years of democracy. Mandela's election in 1994 ended decades of white-racist rule and his example of forgiveness after 27 years in prison inspired millions around the world. Mandela died in December at the age of 95.
"The unveiling of this bust confirms that our Parliament, which was once a symbol of white domination, has now been transformed into a progressive institution that upholds the values of unity, equality, freedom and the dignity of all South Africans," Zuma said.
The celebration comes just over a week before South Africans head to the polls. The May 7 election is likely to see the ruling African National Congress return to power with a smaller majority than in past elections, reflecting discontent with the movement that led the fight against apartheid.
South Africa boasts a widely admired constitution and an active civil society and the government has delivered housing, water and electricity to millions since 1994, but a wide gap between rich and poor overshadows the many achievements of the "rainbow nation."
South Africa struggles with high unemployment, one of the world's highest rates of violent crime and ongoing race issues. Zuma has also been criticized because more than $20 million in state funds were spent on upgrading his private rural home.
Members of Mandela's family and the last president under apartheid, F.W. de Klerk, who won the Nobel Peace Prize along with Mandela, were among those attending Monday's ceremony.