You’re coming at the right time, Obama

2013-06-28 00:00

THERE seems to exist a sense that U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned visit to South Africa should have been cancelled for two reasons. Firstly, somewhat bizarrely, because of the state of Nelson Mandela’s health, and secondly, due to unhappiness about some of the U.S.’s (unpopular) global actions.

Much as I appreciate the sensitivity displayed by both schools of thought, I suggest that neither of these reasons is important enough to cancel a once-in-a-lifetime visit by the first black president of the most powerful nation in the world.

Here’s why.

Obama, like Madiba, has been an inspiration to most of us who value the fact that both of them overcame so much adversity to reach, respectively, the Oval Office and the Union Buildings.

Prior to their successes, their achievements must have been the most unthinkable of historical achievements.

Of course, that is why some in the so-called free world referred to Madiba as a “terrorist” while he was still in prison and — refresh your memories now — why some high-profile people did not take the then-senator Obama seriously enough to meet him when he set foot here in 2006.

But we all make mistakes. The challenge, though, is not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The fact is, as has been stated elsewhere, Obama’s visit was planned long before Madiba’s health deteriorated.

One also has reason to wonder whether the state of health of a former president should be considered when one is planning on visiting a country?

I’d say no, unless the visit includes a planned, and strategically important, meeting with such a former head of state.

Quite correctly, then, President Jacob Zuma was quoted as saying: “There’s nothing that’s going to stop the [Obama] visit because Mandela is sick. If you stopped that visit, people would ask questions.”

And, to add to the president’s words, it would also create an impression that the visit is all about posing with Madiba (as the international who’s who love to do), as opposed to building relations between the leader of the world and the biggest economy in Africa.

Then there is the other, trickier matter of some trade unions, political parties and civil society groups condemning Obama’s visit and warning that it “will be protested, picketed and resisted by all justice and peace-loving people of this country”.

May I point out, justice and peace-loving as I’ve always been, that I will not participate in the protests, much as the United States has upset me at times.

However, one cannot fully disagree with the group’s statement: “Friendship with South Africa must be based on values of justice, freedom and equality, and these the U.S. has offended, undermined and ridiculed through its actions on the global front.”

The question is: have we applied the same principle to other visiting heads of state, or are we merely picking on Obama because of the international media coverage that such action will elicit?

Clearly, those who are protesting against Obama’s visit do not have any idea how complicated it is to govern a country. Ask Madiba, who, like Obama, has often been accused of selling out to “big capital” or to “the whites”.

Obama’s coming to South Africa at this juncture is clearly an indication that the U.S. still takes our country seriously, despite the fact that many in the world, including some in the anti-Obama group, share former president Thabo Mbeki’s “feeling of great unease that our beloved motherland is losing its sense of direction”.

In the preface to Madiba’s Conversations with Myself, Obama writes how, in past conversations with Madiba, there was always the realisation “that underneath the history that has been made, there is a human being who chose hope over fear — progress over the prisons of the past”.

That is how some of us think of Obama, too.

Welcome, Mr President: you’ve come at the right time. — News24.

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