Michelle Obama pays homeage to Mandela in S.Africa

21st June 2011, Comments 0 comments

US First Lady Michelle Obama set out on the first day of a South African tour Tuesday to pay homage to former president Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid.

Having arrived in Pretoria late Monday, Obama will visit Mandela's charitable foundation and tour the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's archives with his wife -- humanitarian and former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel, the White House said.

She will also visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which chronicles the history of the fight against white-minority rule.

The first lady is travelling with her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Robinson -- but not her husband, US President Barack Obama.

The White House has emphasised the importance to the first family of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle, which President Obama has called his first political cause.

US officials say the American president has periodic telephone contact with Mandela, who led the struggle against apartheid and became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years as a political prisoner.

It was unclear whether the first lady would meet the 92-year-old icon, who is in frail health and has been under home medical care since he was hospitalised with an acute respiratory infection in January.

The US State Department said it had been told that "Madiba" -- the clan name by which Mandela is affectionately known -- is not receiving visitors.

"It's our understanding that Madiba does not see people anymore," Elizabeth Trudeau, spokeswoman at the US embassy in Pretoria, told AFP.

Mandela's foundation did not rule out a visit but said it does not release details on his schedule.

US officials are describing Obama's trip -- a six-day tour that will also include stops in Cape Town and the Botswana capital, Gaborone -- as her first major solo overseas trip as first lady.

The visit is her second official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, after a 24-hour stop in Ghana with her husband in 2009.

Obama made her first solo trip as first lady last year, stopping briefly in Haiti before continuing on to Mexico for a three-day visit.

Pictures of Obama's late-night arrival were splashed across the pages of South African newspapers Tuesday. The first lady stepped off the plane in a bright orange and black sweater that White House officials said was by Nigerian-British designer Duro Olowu.

She started her visit with a Tuesday morning meeting with one of President Jacob Zuma's three wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, in Pretoria, before setting off for nearby Johannesburg for visits to the Mandela Foundation, the Apartheid Museum and a day care centre.

Obama has a packed schedule that also includes a trip to the memorial for Hector Pieterson -- a 12-year-old boy killed during the anti-apartheid Soweto uprising in 1976 -- on Wednesday, a meeting with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu in Cape Town on Thursday and a safari in Botswana on Saturday.

On Wednesday she will also give the keynote address at a conference of the Young African Women Leaders Forum, a two-day meeting of 75 women aged 16 to 30 who are playing leadership roles across the continent.

© 2011 AFP

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