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The South African government has discovered that the sculptors who built the massive Nelson Mandela statue on the occasion of his death also included a small rabbit inside Mandela's ear. And they are really not cool with it. 

The country's Department of Arts and Culture spokesman Mogomotsi Mogodiri explained to the BBC why the government is demanding the rabbit be removed:

"We don't think it's appropriate because Nelson Mandela never had a rabbit on his ear."

Oh hey secret rabbit. AP Photo

That's a true fact. The "unrealistic" argument is a bold choice, considering that the statue is 30-feet tall and made out of bronze. Mandela was not those things.

Mogodiri's other reason makes more sense to us, that the government would  like to "restore dignity back to the statue." Dali Tambo, the CEO of the heritage development company which commissioned the artists (and the son of anti-apartheid leader Oliver Tambo) said "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... So it's belittling, in my opinion, if you then take it in a jocular way and start adding rabbits in the ear."

The sculptors, Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, said they'd surreptitiously inserted the rabbit because the government had denied their request to engrave their signatures onto the sculpture's trouser. Mogodiri said he doesn't recall that they ever making that request.

The artists chose the animal because "rabbit" in Afrikaans also means "haste," and they had to construct the statue, which was unveiled eleven days after Mandela's death, very quickly. Not quickly enough to keep them making a bronze rabbit, we guess. Prinsloo added that "You need a long lens or binoculars to see it," and that nobody noticed the rabbit during the molding process, when people were viewing it up close. According to the arts and culture minister, the artists apologized to anyone offended by the makeshift signature.  

Some South Africans didn't seem all that upset by the embellishment: 

Some even used a #SaveTheRabbit hashtag to show support:  

Though we understand the offense taken at any frivolity associated with commemorating the celebrated leader, we'd like to point out that this government also authorized a possibly-violent schizophrenic man with a very weak grasp of English or sign language (or both) to translate President Obama's speech into sign language during Mandela's memorial service. So a small, virtually unseeable rabbit doesn't seem to be the most egregious offense to Mandela's memory.

The government says it hopes to remove the rabbit quickly and without harming the sculpture, and that the artists will be allowed to engrave their names onto the statue in a discreet location. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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