Michelle Obama pays homage to Mandela

2011-06-21 14:06
Johannesburg - US First Lady Michelle Obama set out on the first day of a South African tour on Tuesday to pay homage to former president Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid.

Having arrived in Pretoria late on Monday, Obama will visit Mandela's charitable foundation and tour the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's archives with his wife - humanitarian and former Mozambican first lady Graça Machel, the White House said.

She will also visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which chronicles the history of the fight against apartheid.

The first lady is travelling with her daughters, Malia and Sasha, and her mother, Marian Robinson - but not her husband, US President Barack Obama.

Obama’s first political cause

The White House has emphasised the importance of South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle to the first family, which President Obama has called his first political cause.

US officials say the American president has periodic telephone contact with Mandela.

It was unclear whether the first lady would meet the 92-year-old icon, who is in frail health and has been under home medical care since he was hospitalised with an acute respiratory infection in January.

The US state department said it had been told that Madiba is not receiving visitors.

"It's our understanding that Madiba does not see people anymore," Elizabeth Trudeau, spokesperson at the US embassy in Pretoria, told AFP.

Mandela's foundation did not rule out a visit but said it does not release details on his schedule.

US officials are describing Obama's trip - a six-day tour that will also include stops in Cape Town and the Botswana capital, Gaborone - as her first major solo overseas trip as first lady.

The visit is her second official trip to sub-Saharan Africa, after a 24-hour stop in Ghana with her husband in 2009.

Packed schedule

Obama made her first solo trip as first lady last year, stopping briefly in Haiti before continuing on to Mexico for a three-day visit.

Pictures of Obama's late-night arrival were splashed across the pages of newspapers on Tuesday. The first lady stepped off the plane in a bright orange and black sweater that White House officials said was by Nigerian-British designer Duro Olowu.

She started her visit with a Tuesday morning meeting with one of President Jacob Zuma's three wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, in Pretoria, before setting off for visits to the Mandela Foundation, the Apartheid Museum and a day care centre.

Obama has a packed schedule that also includes a trip to the memorial for Hector Pieterson on Wednesday, a meeting with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu in Cape Town on Thursday and a safari in Botswana on Saturday.

On Wednesday she will also give the keynote address at a conference of the Young African Women Leaders Forum, a two-day meeting of 75 women aged 16 to 30 who are playing leadership roles across the continent.

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