You're coming at the right time, Pres Obama

2013-06-25 14:49

There seems to exist a sense that President Obama’s planned visit to South Africa should have been cancelled for two reasons – first, somewhat bizarrely, because of the state of Madiba’s health; secondly, due to unhappiness about some of the US’s (unpopular) global actions.

Much as I appreciate the sensitivity displayed by both schools of thought, I suggest that neither of these reasons are important enough to cancel a “once in a life time” 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 eventually reach, respectively, the Oval Office and the Union Buildings. It was, before it happened, and in both countries, perhaps 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 serious enough to meet with him when he set foot down here in 2006.

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

Fact is, as was already 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 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 was all about posing with Madiba, like 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 bodies condemning President Obama’s visit and warning that it “will be protested, picketed and resisted by all justice and peace-loving peoples 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 US has even upset me sometimes and much as one cannot fully disagree with the group’s statement that: “Friendship with South Africa must be based on values of justice, freedom and equality, and these the US has offended, undermined and ridiculed through its actions in the global front.”

Question is:

Clearly, those who are protesting against President Obama’s visit does not have any idea of how complicated a task it is to govern a complex country – ask Nelson Mandela 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 America still takes our country serious – despite that many in the world, including some in the anti-Obama group, share former President Mbeki’s “feeling of great unease that our beloved Motherland is losing its sense of direction”.

In the preface to Mandela’s “Conversations with Myself” Obama writes how in past conversations with Madiba there always was 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 choose to think of Obama, too. Welcome, Mr President: You’ve come at the right time to the place.

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