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US First Lady Michelle Obama to visit Southern Africa


US First Lady Michelle Obama begins a six-day visit to Southern Africa on Monday where she will meet anti-apartheid leaders and highlight the spread of democracy on the continent.

The wife of US President Barack Obama will visit Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town and Gaborone, Botswana, starting on Monday evening until Sunday.

She will be accompanied by her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, but not her husband, on a trip that the White House says will focus on “youth leadership, education, health and wellness”.

The first lady will also be travelling with her mother, Marian Robinson, and two nephews.

She will visit several places that are symbols of South Africa’s decades-long anti-apartheid struggle, according to a schedule put out by the White House.

After meeting Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, the wife of South African president Jacob Zuma, on Tuesday, Obama will visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, where she will be given a tour by Graça Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique and now wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

There were no plans announced to visit Mandela, who at 92 is in fragile health, although the White House has left open the possibility of a meeting.

“She will be paying tribute to President Mandela’s legacy throughout her visit. She of course would treasure any opportunity to interact with president Mandela, it depends on his ability to receive visitors,” said Ben Rhodes, a White House deputy national security advisor.

Rhodes said the anti-apartheid struggle was “an inspiration to both South Africans and people across the continent, but of course so many people across the United States as well”.

He noted that President Obama has spoken repeatedly about the anti-apartheid movement, which he has called his first political cause.

“There’s obviously a deep connection that the Obamas feel to the South African experience,” Rhodes said.

On June 22, the first lady will go to one of the central symbols in the anti-apartheid fight, the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, a sanctuary for students during the uprising on June 16 1976, when a 12-year-old student, Hector Pieterson, was killed.

The next day, Obama visits Cape Town and the former Robben Island prison, where Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.

During her visit to the port city, Obama will meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, 10 years before the fall of the apartheid regime.

Obama will round out her visit to Southern Africa with a stop in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, which the White House has praised for its “democratic stability”.

“It’s important to underscore that this trip by the first lady is very directly connected to the president’s agenda in Africa, the Obama administration’s foreign policy in Africa,” said Rhodes, adding that both countries were “strong African democracies” that “can provide positive examples for the neighbourhood”.

President Obama, whose father was Kenyan, has visited sub-Saharan Africa once since he took office, with a trip to Ghana in July 2009.

He has called on the continent to take charge of its own destiny and fight anti-democratic tendencies there. – AFP

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