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Michelle Obama urges young Africans to fight social ills

US First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday urged young people in Soweto, the cradle of the anti-apartheid fight, to use the legacy of South Africa’s liberation movement to fight modern ills.

Speaking at Regina Mundi church, once a haven for activists fighting white-minority rule, Obama invoked the memory of leaders of the American civil rights movement and South Africa’s liberation struggle to encourage young leaders.

“It is because of them that I stand before you as first lady of the United States of America,” she said to 1,000 people gathered in the church, in a speech broadcast nationally.

“That is the legacy of the independence generation, the freedom generation. And all of you, the young people of today, are the heirs of this blood, sweat, sacrifice and love. So the question today is, what will you make of that inheritance?”

More than 70 young women leaders from across the continent were brought to Soweto to hear the speech and to meet with Obama, who was set to spend the day visiting landmarks of the anti-apartheid struggle with her mother and her two daughters.

“You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time, the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease,” Obama said.

“You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption.”

Obama was greeted with cheers and applause as her motorcade arrived in Soweto, where jumbo screens were set up in a park near the church for an overflow crowd to hear her speech.

The speech was the first public remark from Obama since arriving in South Africa late Monday on a two-nation tour. On Tuesday, she and her family paid tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and met briefly with the 92-year-old liberation leader at his home.