If Obama was hoping for a warm reception upon his arrival in the second leg of his 3 nation African tour, in Johannesburg, to celebrate the life of South Africaâs critically ill, 94 year old leader Nelson Mandela, he got quite a surprise when local police had to lob stun grenades at local protestors who had gathered at the worldâs once most famous apartheid ghetto, Soweto, where they chanted against US foreign policy, American drone strikes, US policy in Guantanamo and Iran and much more. They were hardly racist.
U.S. President Barack Obama met the family of South Africa’s ailing anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela on Saturday, offering words of comfort and praising the critically ill retired statesman as one of history’s greatest figures.
The faltering health of Mandela, 94, a figure admired globally as a symbol of struggle against injustice and racism, is dominating Obama’s two-day visit to South Africa.
But Obama also faced protests by South Africans against U.S. foreign policy, especially American drone strikes.
Police fired stun grenades to disperse several hundred protesters who had gathered outside the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg, where Obama addressed an afternoon town hall meeting with students.
The brief confrontation some distance away did not disrupt the event in the heavily protected campus, where Obama gave a speech praising what he called a new “more prosperous, more confident” Africa. He also took questions from students.
Obama met Mandela’s relatives to deliver a message of support instead of directly visiting the frail former president at the hospital where he has spent the last three weeks.
The half-hour meeting took place at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg.
Obama said afterwards in a statement he had also spoken by telephone with Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, who remained by her husband’s side in the hospital in Pretoria.
“I expressed my hope that Madiba draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones, and also expressed my heartfelt support for the entire family as they work through this difficult time,” he said, using the clan name Madiba by which Mandela is affectionately known.
Machel said she had conveyed this message to her husband and thanked the Obamas for their “touch of personal warmth”.
Obama’s visit to South Africa had stirred intense speculation that the first African-American president of the United States would look in on the first black president of South Africa in his hospital room. But Mandela’s deterioration in the last week to a critical condition forced the White House to decide against such a visit.
Of course, not everyone was unhappy to see Obama:
“Obama, like Nelson Mandela, is the first black president in his country …Â His success in the U.S. shows that we as Africans can also make it,” said Nanzwakazi Zuma, a lecturer in electrical engineering who attended the Soweto event.