South Africans protesting a visit to their country by US President Barack Obama yesterday rallied a few blocks from well-wishers at a hospital in Pretoria where anti-apartheid hero and former South African president Nelson Mandela is critically ill.
Obama, on a three-nation tour of Africa, was due to arrive in South Africa yesterday, with White House officials saying they will defer to Mandela’s family on whether the first African-American president of the US will visit South Africa’s first black president.
Mandela, 94, is fighting a lung infection that has left him in a critical condition and in hospital for nearly three weeks.
His fourth hospitalization in six months has focused attention in South Africa and globally on the faltering health of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is admired as a symbol of resistance against injustice and of racial reconciliation.
South African President Jacob Zuma has said Mandela’s condition improved over Wednesday night, but he remained critical.
About 200 trade unionists, student activists and South African Communist Party members gathered to protest Obama’s visit this weekend, calling his foreign policy “arrogant, selfish and oppressive.”
“We had expectations of America’s first black president. Knowing Africa’s history, we expected more,” said Khomotso Makola, a 19-year-old law student. “He has come as a disappointment. I think Mandela too would be disappointed and feel let down.”
South African critics of Obama have focused in particular on his support for US drone strikes overseas, which they say have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, and his failure to deliver on a pledge to close the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba housing terrorism suspects.
A few blocks away at the hospital where Mandela is being cared for, well-wishers paying tribute to the legendary retired statesman had words of praise for Obama, who met Mandela in 2005.
Nigerian painter Sanusi Olatunji, 31, had brought portraits of both Mandela and Obama to the wall of the hospital, where flowers, tribute notes and gifts for Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately known, have been piling up.
“These are the two great men of my lifetime,” he said. “To me, Mandela is a prophet who brought peace and opportunity.”