Obama is met with protests in South Africa | Africa | DW | 29.06.2013
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Obama is met with protests in South Africa

US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, met with family members of ailing former South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. But some protests against US policies continued across the country.

President Obama met two of Mandela's daughters and six of his grandchildren at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg. After the visit, Obama hailed Mandela "as one of the greatest leaders of our time." He urged leaders around the world to follow Mandela's example.

Obama's visit to South Africa was overshadowed by concerns about Mandela's health, although the American president had already said on the flight to South Africa that he did not need a snapshot with the former president. "I do not want to be obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned with Nelson Mandela's health," he told reporters aboard his Air Force One jet.

'No, you can't'

Many lobby groups in the country that form the "NObama" campaign doubt such statements. While Air Force One landed on Waterkloof air force base near the capital Pretoria, hundreds of demonstrators protested against the visit.

Protesters hold placards denouncing Obama. Photo:REUTERS/Mujahid Safodien

Protesters held placards to denounce the arrival of President Obama in South Africa

A large banner that showed Obama behind bars stated: "Here comes the biggest killer in the world." Another one, alluding to Obama's campaign slogan "Yes we can," read "No, YOU cannot."

Previously, a Muslim organization had tried to seek an arrest warrant against Obama for "crimes against humanity," which was not granted. Protesters intend to take their campaign to other cities across the country.

Meanwhile, the week-long dispute between students and the faculty of the University of Johannesburg to award Obama an honorary doctorate was able to be settled in the last minute. According to the compromise, Obama will receive the award, while the alumni certificate will be presented to him at a later date.

Focus on Zimbabwe and trade

Both the hosts and Obama's entourage remained calm despite the protests. The joint press conference of President Obama and South Africa's president Jacob Zuma ended on a conciliatory note. Besides discussing bilateral trade, the two heads of state also reviewed the situation in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The prison cell at Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years.

President Obama will visit Nelson Mandela's former cell on Robben Island.

For many years, South Africa has been more or less successful as a mediator in Zimbabwe. Currently there are controversies surrounding the elections scheduled for July.

The press conference was originally scheduled to last for 20 minutes, but went on for an hour. Reporters questioned Zuma, among other things, about the values of the ruling African National Congress party.

Jacob Zuma has been exposed to corruption allegations ever since he took office.

"We hope that he (Mandela) will soon be out of hospital," Zuma also stated, without giving further details.

"What Nelson Mandela stood for is that the well-being of a country is more important than the interest of any one person," Obama told reporters at the conference.

South Africa's business community hopes that Obama's visit will be a boost for American investment in the country.

In an opinion piece for the financial newspaper, Business Report, Scott Fiersing wrote that bilateral relations between the two countries had a significant impact on the lives of many South Africans. US companies provide approximately 120,000 jobs in South Africa.

Obama addresses young leaders

On Saturday, Obama held a Town Hall meeting with students in Soweto outside Johannesburg. On Sunday, the Obama's are set to pay a visit to the prison at Robben Island. Here, Nelson Mandela spent much of the 27 years of his imprisonment.

According to media reports, South African and US security forces have spent almost a month to prepare for the visit of Robben Island. "The Americans have driven us crazy," a local tourist guide complained to DW. "Imagine what we could do with all the money (that was spent for Obama's visit)," a South African tourist told DW.

On Sunday night, the U.S. president will deliver a much-anticipated speech to students at the University of Cape Town (UCT). During the apartheid years, the UCT was a stronghold of resistance against the white minority regime.

US President Barack Obama addresses young African leaders in Soweto Photo: SAUL LOEB/ AFP/Getty Images)

Young African leaders in Soweto discussed development issues with Obama.

It will be interesting to see whether South African students will fire critical questions at the US president. His opinion about homosexuality led to some dissonance in Senegal. Cape Town, on the other hand, is the unofficial capital of South Africa's gay community.

China takes on the US

Rasheed, a taxi driver, is not excited about Obama's visit. He has parked his delicately clean Toyota at the Waterfront, a tourist spot close to Robben Island.

"I'm not interested in the Americans anymore," he says. "We have the Indians and Chinese, who invest much more. I don't see any need for Obama to come here."

For the people holding vigil at the hospital in Pretoria, where Mandela is being treated, the Obama visit is a similarly minor issue.

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