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Hopping Mad: Rabbit In Mandela Statue's Ear Is On Burrowed Time

We don't often do hare-raising tales on The Two-Way, but here's one from South Africa.

Two sculptors who were refused permission to engrave their signatures onto their giant statue of Nelson Mandela came up with a novel solution: They hid a bronze rabbit in the statue's ear.

Our story begins Dec. 16, a day after Mandela's funeral, when President Jacob Zuma unveiled the statue by Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren at Pretoria's Union Buildings, the government's headquarters.

The nearly 30-foot-tall bronze-plated work has Mandela standing with his hands reaching outward, as if embracing all of South Africa.

Prinsloo and van Vuuren then told the Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper that they'd inserted a tiny rabbit in the ear as a "small trademark" after authorities refused to let them engrave their names on the statue's trousers. They said they chose the rabbit because of the haste with which they had to complete the statue. The word for rabbit in Afrikaans is haas, which also translates to "haste."

"You need a long lens or binoculars to see it," Prinsloo told the paper. "During the molding process, a lot of people had seen the statue up close and nobody noticed it."

They have now.

"It is unfortunate that the sculptors ... chose to place an object in the statue without the knowledge of those who commissioned them," Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile said in a statement.

He said the sculptors had apologized for the addition and that his department has ordered the rabbit removed without damaging the statue or compromising the sculpture's integrity.

We wonder if they'll be hopping to it.

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.