Mrs O leaves her mark on Africa

2011-06-25 18:01

Young, old and frail braved the morning chills on Wednesday as they came to see US First Lady Michelle Obama at ­Soweto’s Regina Mundi Church.

“I am here for Mrs O,” said Idols ­contestant Noluthando Meje.

Meje, along with 5FM’s Anele Mdoda, were some of the 76 women from across Africa who were chosen to be part of the young women’s leaders forum.

Mdoda said: “I just figured out that they chose 76 women to symbolise 1976. We had a chance to meet her on Tuesday and I can say that Mrs Obama is ­not overwhelming and very ­normal.”

The who’s who of the local celeb scene were there too including businesswomen Basetsana Kumalo and her sister ­Johanna Makgalemela Mukoki, MetroFM’s Melanie Bala, All Access presenter Pabi Moloi, Aids activist Criselda Kananda and singer Dionne Song.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, former deputy president Baleka Mbete and Graça Machel welcomed the first lady to Soweto.

Machel introduced Obama as such: “Regina Mundi’s name in Latin means queen of the world. We welcome you as a daughter of African heritage and we can call you the queen of our world.”

In a moving speech that left some teary eyed, it was clear that Mrs Obama had done intense research on South Africa as she spoke about the history of June?16, Chief Albert Luthuli and the late Albertina Sisulu, while drawing comparisons ­between the youth of South Africa and the US.

“I’m thinking of how Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika echoed through university campuses in the US, as students – including my husband – planned boycotts to support students here in South Africa.

“And I have seen that same passion, that same determination to serve, in young people I have met all across the world – from India to El Salvador, from Mexico to the United Kingdom to here in South Africa.

“So today I want you to know that as you work to lift up your families, your communities, your countries and your world, know that you are never alone. You are never alone,” she said.

After speaking for more than 30 minutes, Mrs Obama ended her speech with words of encouragement as she echoed her husband’s campaign slogan “Yes we can!”.

And it seemed everyone was blown away by Mrs Obama’s speech.

“She had some powerful quotes which were interesting, and I was moved by the way she told the story of how we all are interconnected as a world and as ­women,” said Song.

Kumalo, a former Miss South Africa who had a front-row seat at the church, spoke of Mrs Obama’s speech as “encouraging for all women to stand together and stand up as a whole to make our contributions to the world”.

Reigning Miss South Africa Bokang Montjane was also there. She was one of the few who got a chance to chat to Mrs Obama.

“I feel so inspired because I told her I was advocating to stop teenage pregnancies and I told her it was hard. She ­simply said: ‘I know it’s hard, but don’t give up’,” said Montjane.

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