Mandela′s ill-health overshadows Obama visit | Africa | DW | 28.06.2013
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Mandela's ill-health overshadows Obama visit

US President Barack Obama headed for South Africa on Friday. South Africa's politicians have been emphasizing bilateral ties with Washington, but the rest of the nation is more worried about Mandela.

A bronze statue depicting former South African president Nelson Mandela as he walked to freedom in 1990 following his release after 27 years of incarceration, stands on February 10, 2010, outside the Groot Drakenstein prison in Paarl, about 90Kms from Cape Town on the eve of the 20th Anniversary of his liberation. Mandela was kept in a private house at the Groot Drakenstein prison after being released from Robben Island prison in 1988, where he remained until his release by the apartheid government on February 11 1990. (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela Südafrika Flagge Denkmal Faust

Obama really did try. From Senegal, the first leg of his tour, he lavished praise on the former South African president, now hospitalized in Pretoria, describing how he had inspired him in his youth.

"It gave me a sense of what is possible in the world when righteous people, when people of good will work together on behalf a larger cause," he said.

Meanwhile the first lady, Michelle Obama, urged a group of middle school students in Dakar to draw on Mandela's strength as they grow up to possibly become leaders in their own right.

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd L) and first lady Michelle Obama (R) arrive with their daughters Sasha (L) and Malia in Dakar June 26, 2013. The first family arrived in Senegal on Wednesday, the first of three countries on their week-long trip. REUTERS/Jason Reed (SENEGAL - Tags: POLITICS) / Eingestellt von wa

President Obama arriving with his family in Senegal on the first leg of his African tour

Yet despite this charm offensive, Obama's visit to South Africa, the continent's economic power house, is unlikely to make much of an impression on South Africans. The tight security, though, did given cause for comment. "Are the Americans invading?" tweeted one newspaper reader as the Hawk helicopters of the US Marines flew low over Johannesburg. And the newspaper The Star remarked acidly: "Even George W Bush made more of an impact on Africa."

Trade ties

But there is a lot at stake for South Africa. President Zuma and his ministers have been seeking to emphasize the importance of Obama's visit for a country that is still waiting for its democracy dividend and battling chronically high unemployment. The US is one of South Africa's most important trading partners.

There are 600 US companies in the country, upon which 120,000 South African jobs depend. US direct investment in South Africa totaled six and a half billion dollars in 2010.

Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, known as AGOA, 90 percent of South African exports to the US enter the American market under preferential conditions. In 2012 the US and South Africa signed a Trade Investment Framework Agreement which could yield yet further concessions for South Africa.

Miller Matola is the director of the marketing agency Brand South Africa, which as the name suggests, seeks to promote South Africa abroad. "We would like to see the visit advancing South Africa's prospects from an economic point of view," he told DW.

Titel: Kritische Zeitungsausschnitte in der Presse vor dem Eintreffen Obamas in Südafrika Autor/C: DW/Ludger Schadomsky Fotos vom 28.6.13 Zulieferer: Lina Hoffmann

There has been some criticism of Obama's visit in South Africa

Matola is unimpressed by media speculation that Mandela's death could plunge the country into chaos. He refuted suggestions that the economy would be seriously affected, maintaining that the focus of investors generally lay elsewhere.

"What countries look at, and what investors look at, is what a country does around issues such as corruption," he said. This was because economic growth, prosperity and the ability to address issues such as inequality hinged on South Africa being able to deal with corruption, he explained.

Titel: Hausangestellte Pretty Nyelas Gedanken sind nur beim kranken Nelson Mandela- für US-Präsident Barack Obama hat sie keine Zeit Autor/C: DW/Ludger Schadomsky Fotos vom 28.6.13 Zulieferer: Lina Hoffmann

Pretty Nylea's thoughts are with Nelson Mandela rather than President Obama

Criticism of Obama in South Africa

Not all South Africans are prepared to welcome President Obama with open arms. The Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) in South Africa tried to secure an arrest warrant for him on charges of crimes against humanity, but their application was dismissed. The MLA believes Obama to be directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of more than three thousand people in Pakistan and Syria, among other places.

At the University of Johannesburg on Thursday, students and lecturers were engaged in heated debate about the award of an honorary doctorate to Obama. Some have threatened noisy protests if the ceremony goes ahead.    

Meanwhile Pretty Nylea, a South African wage-earner from Johannesburg, told DW there wasn't enough time to pay attention to the US president. "All of our thoughts are with Mandela," she said.

Conway, a businessman from the Melville suburb of Johannesburg, is even more scathing. "I'm quite ambivalent about the Americans. I wonder what he is doing here. We don't really perceive benefits from America." he said

In conclusion, Nylea was even more damming. "I don' think he's got much interest in Africa," she said.

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