Mandela’s Robben Island Jail Flashpoint of Obama’s African Visit


U.S. President Barack Obama is visiting Robben Island today (Sunday) – the jail in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost two decades. Obama’s tour includes visiting Mandela’s former cell and the quarry where he spent his days chipping away at stones. Reports say Mandela’s lung troubles may be traced to his time spent there.

Mandela remains an international icon for his fight against apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial segregation. He was elected to the nation’s highest office in 1994, four years after he was freed from 27 years in prison. He is seen worldwide as an ideal of peaceful reconciliation.

Mr. Obama also met with family members of the former South African President.

Describing him as an inspiration to the world,” Mr. Obama praised the 94-year-old Nobel Laureate for his struggle in freeing South Africa from the chains of apartheid. On Saturday, in Pretoria, Mr. Obama said Mr. Mandela ‘s example as “the power of principle, of people standing up for what’s right continues to shine as a beacon.”

According to reporters Mr. Obama’s tour of the Robben Island, is likely to be the most moving moment of the president’s Africa tour. Mr. Obama was accompanied by the first family on this visit.

Reports say that FW de Klerk, the last apartheid president, is returning to South Africa after cutting short a trip to Europe because of Mr. Mandela’s deteriorating health. FW de Klerk was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Mandela in 1993.

Before he leaves South Africa, Mr. Obama will visit a community project and deliver a keynote address at the University of Cape Town.

This is the same venue where U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy delivered his celebrated “ripple of hope” speech in 1966 at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle. It is said that this renowned speech gave inspiration to those struggling against the racially divisive policies of apartheid rule. This speech was linked civil rights struggle in the U.S.

Mr. Obama is expected to pay tribute to South Africa’s achievements over the past two decades but is expected to stress that challenges of poverty and disease need to be addressed.

Reports say he will announce a $7 billion initiative to combat frequent power blackouts in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many Africans have expressed disappointment in Mr. Obama for what they see his disengagement with the African continent despite his African ancestry.

Anti-Obama riots broke out in Soweto, a Johannesburg neighborhood, where rioters clashed with the police. According to reports, riot police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at scores of protesters in Soweto, once the heartland in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Reports say at least one person was injured and one arrested.

“People died in Libya, people are still dying in Syria… in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, drones are still killing people. So that’s why we are calling him a Hitler. He’s a killer,” Ramasimong Tsokolibane, 54, was quoted as saying to reporters.

On Monday, he will continue his African tour in Tanzania. Mr. Obama’s visit to Africa is part of a three-nation trip that started in Senegal and will end in Tanzania this week.

By Perviz Walji

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