After touching down in Pretoria last night, First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on her first full day in South Africa early this morning. The country, which has been anticipating Mrs. Obama’s visit for weeks was at full attention as the world’s most famous First Lady met with the man widely considered father of their nation, Nelson Mandela.
The two shared an encounter while Mrs. Obama was touring his foundation’s museum. According to reports, Mandela asked to meet with the First Lady after being notified that she was on the premises. The First Lady, who is being accompanied by her mother, Marion Robinson, her daughters, Sasha and Malia, and her niece and nephew Leslie Robinson, 15, and Avery Robinson, 19.
The group spent about twenty minutes with Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel. Machel is a former First Lady herself, having served in Mozambique with the late Samora Machel from 1975 until his tragic death in a plane crash in 1986. Machel served again alongside Mandela as South Africa’s First Lady for one year after marrying Mandela in 1998, making her the only woman in the world who has served as First Lady for two Presidents.
According to Voice of America, official at the Mandela foundation called her “a lovely woman without any airs.”
Since stepping down from office in 1999, Mandela has rarely been seen in public. Though his declining health has been a cause for concern over the years, in the pictures of his meet with Mrs. Obama, Mandela appeared healthy and at ease. Mandela first met with President Obama in 2005 when he was then an up and coming lawmaker serving in the senate representing Illinois.
While Mrs. Obama’s solo trip is an official government visit, for many her meeting with Mandela goes beyond mere diplomatic lines. There is no denying the gravity of the albeit brief but significant meeting, which brought together South Africa’s first black president and the wife of the first African-American president of the United States.
Though some in Washington’s circles say that Michelle’s visit is merely a “charm offensive,” her trip comes at a time with South Africa and the United State find them selves on the opposite end of several key debates. As Scott Baldauf of The Christian Science Monitor points out:
Earlier this year…South Africa voted as a member of the United Nations Security Council to approve the use of force by NATO to protect civilians in Libya, but later complained that the US and its allies were using that power too liberally to force Muammar Qaddafi from power.
Still, Mrs. Obama says her visit is focused on embracing Africa’s youth and that they are her main reason for making this trip. In a statement, the First Lady addressed the continent’s youth and looked forward to their growth into leaders saying:
“I am doing this because we know that Africa is a fundamental part of our interconnected world and when it comes to meeting the challenges of our times, whether it is climate change or extremism, poverty or disease, the world is looking to African nations as vital partners and will be looking across the continent to young people just like all of you to help lead the way.”
What are your thoughts on the First Lady’s visit? Tell us what you think Clutchettes and gents- share your thoughts!