US first lady praises Mbeki, SA's women

Lauding President Thabo Mbeki’s drive for gender equality and South Africa’s women for their fight against HIV/Aids, United States First Lady Laura Bush said Africa’s progress is best measured in hope.

“A few years ago, having HIV/Aids was a death sentence and shame; today, they have hope,” Bush said at a gathering at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town on Tuesday.

Highlighting the strong connection between education, confidence and combating the disease, Bush said educated women are more able to stand up for their rights.

Currently honorary ambassador for the Decade of Literacy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Bush said her husband, US President George Bush, fully supports education in Africa.

At the beginning of July, Bush announced $400-million (about R2,6-billion) over the next four years for the continuation of the Africa Education Initiative to improve the quality and accessibility of basic education for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

He also announced that $55-million (R363-million) will be spent by the US government in support of women’s justice and empowerment in Africa.

Laura Bush is currently on a tour of South Africa, Tanzania and Rwanda, during which she will highlight US partnerships in education, women’s empowerment and the fight against HIV/Aids.

She said in Cape Town that in many part of the world women are lifting their voices and asking to be heard.

“All people have the responsibility to stop violence against women,” she said, describing attacks on women as an “outrage” that is found in many societies.

Earlier on Tuesday, she visited HIV/Aids clinics in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, where she received a mixed welcome.

About 200 Treatment Action Campaign members brandishing posters reading “Invest in health and not war” and “Our enemy is HIV, not terrorism” greeted Bush when she visited mothers and children living with HIV/Aids at the Khayelitsha Day hospital.

Hundreds of curious residents lined roads and bridges as her long cavalcade wound its way through the township.

Bush visited the midwifery and obstetrics unit at the hospital, where she spoke to patients.

They greeted her with smiles, despite many initially not knowing who she was, and waved at her as she passed.

Speaking afterward, she thanked the South African women for their confidence in the future—obviously impressed with what she had learnt.

“Today, people are more willing to live with Aids than die from it,” she said.—Sapa

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