Obamas excited to visit Robben Island

2013-06-30 14:00

US President Barack Obama and his family are heading for Robben Island today for what he hopes will be one of his “greatest moments”.

Obama, his wife Michelle and their teenage daughters Malia and Sasha are heading for the tiny Atlantic Ocean island where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27?years.

Security preparations there started over a month ago: fields were cleared to create landing space for five helicopters and extra fire engines were imported.

“The struggle here against apartheid and Madiba’s moral courage has been a personal inspiration to me,” Obama said during a joint press conference with President Jacob Zuma at the Union Buildings in Pretoria yesterday.

Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, said in a statement yesterday afternoon that she had spoken to the Obamas on the phone.

Obama made time to meet children at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory yesterday.

“Having taken the time to telephone me to express their solidarity and meet our children, they have added a touch of personal warmth that is characteristic of the Obama family,” Machel said.

“I am humbled by their comfort and messages of strength and inspiration, which I have already conveyed to Madiba.”

Yesterday morning, the Obamas were greeted at the official seat of government by Zuma and his fifth wife, Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, who waved at the procession from atop a sprawling red carpet.

Observers questioned Zuma’s decision to have Madiba-Zuma by his side instead of his first wife, MaKhumalo.

But most agreed that she looked splendid in a simple pastel blue skirt suit with black heels.

A highly-placed source also told City Press that Madiba-Zuma is a “huge fan” of the American head of state.

Obama also met with

Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is the chairperson of the African Union Commission, and also addressed young people in Soweto before attending a gala dinner at the Sefako M Makgatho presidential guesthouse in Pretoria.

To the delight of social media users, Michelle documented their African tour on her brand new Instagram account. Yesterday morning, the First Lady posted a picture of Joburg’s inner city with clear blue skies overhead.

“Starting the day in Johannesburg,” she wrote, attracting some 12?000 users from around the world who “Liked” the picture.

Michelle has since become fashion icon and looked trim in a cream fitted blazer over flowing apricot pants when she started her day alongside her husband and the Zumas.

She later changed into a bright, funky outfit to address youngsters at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown, downtown Joburg.

Meanwhile, in her official blog, Michelle reminisced over her meeting with Madiba at his Houghton, Joburg, home two years ago. She described it as “an experience that I will never forget”.

She wrote: “He is very much in my thoughts and prayers right now. Madiba is truly a giant in world history.”

Later today, the Obama procession is scheduled to stop by at the Desmond Tutu Foundation in Masiphumelele township near Fish Hoek.

It then stops at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where Obama is expected to make a landmark speech.

Earlier this week, UCT staff received a circular, announcing a campus clampdown for the president’s visit.

It referred to the “extreme complexities related to the logistics and security of the event” and said it was “nevertheless a privilege for UCT to host President Obama”.

Obama and his family leave South Africa for Tanzania tomorrow.

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