Home News Michelle Obama to meet Tutu as South African tour ends

Michelle Obama to meet Tutu as South African tour ends

Published on 23/06/2011

US First Lady Michelle Obama kicks off the last leg of her South African tour in Cape Town on Thursday, when she will meet with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

However her planned tour of the apartheid prison Robben Island, which once held Nelson Mandela, was cancelled due to bad weather that made the journey by ferry impossible.

“My understanding is that the visit was cancelled due to bad weather. There are lots of swells. I know she was looking forward to that (Robben Island trip),” said US embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

Instead, she toured the District Six Museum, which chronicles the history of a vibrant racially mixed neighbourhood founded in the 1870s. The apartheid regime bulldozed the area and forcibly segregated its residents, with non-whites banished to barren outlying regions.

Later Obama planned to meet with local education officials and youth at the University of Cape Town, where she was to bring along a group of students from poor neighbourhoods.

She will complete her day with a visit to the Cape Town Soccer Stadium, built for the football World Cup last year, where she will meet Tutu and kick around a ball with local children.

Obama arrived in the country on Monday along with her daughters Malia and Sasha and her mother Marian Robinson.

The trip has honoured the icons of the freedom struggle, and has captivated South Africans as local media track her every move.

On Wednesday she visited Regina Mundi church, which was once a haven in the sprawling Johannesburg township of Soweto for activists fighting white-minority rule.

From the pulpit she delivered a speech to more than 2,000 people where she tapped into the memory of South Africa’s liberation struggle and the American civil rights movement to encourage young leaders.

About 70 young women leaders from across the African continent were brought to Soweto to hear the speech and meet Obama, who urged them to pursue projects from stopping AIDS to fighting corruption.

She then visited a memorial to Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old boy killed during the 1976 student uprising in protest at apartheid education policies. She laid a wreath and observed a moment of silence with Pieterson’s sister.

But the highlight of their tour came Tuesday, when Obama’s family was granted a rare meeting with Nelson Mandela at his Johannesburg home.

Pictures of the meeting dominated front pages, with Mandela smiling and looking healthy.

The 92-year-old has received few guests since being hospitalised earlier this year for an acute respiratory infection.

After Cape Town, Obama and her family leave Friday for neighbouring Botswana, where they will go on safari Saturday.