Obama who?

In August 2006 United States president elect Barack Obama visited South Africa at the start of a five-country tour of the continent.


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Back then Obama (who?) was just another senator (where’s Illinois?) and his visit to this country went largely unremarked.

He met members of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC),visited Robben Island, toured Soweto with Hector Pieterson’s sister and met Constitutional Court justices. He held private meetings with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and TAC founder Zackie Achmat, and won praise from each.


5 Conspicuously absent among Obama’s hosts was then president Thabo Mbeki, whom the senator had earlier implicitly criticised in comments about his government’s Aids response.

”There needs to be a sense of urgency and an almost clinical truth-telling about Aids in this country for the problem to be solved,” Obama said while visiting TAC in Cape Town. ”If it is not addressed in an unambiguous fashion, the percentage of people who are infected is going [to go] off the charts.”

    1. Ahmed Kathrada, Rivonia Trialist and former Robben Island prisoner, leads Obama on a tour of the iconic detention facility. Obama has cited among hisformative political experiences his involvement in South African divestment campaigns in the early 1980s.(Photograph: Rodger Bosch/Getty Images)

    2. Antoinette Sithole, sister of slain student protester Hector Pieterson, gives Obama a tour of the Soweto museum erected in her brother’s honour. Obama laid a wreath at the museum’s memorial and he said it was the Soweto Uprising that inspired him to become involved in politics. (Photograph: AFP)

    3. Obama tries the local handshake with a man who approached him on the street outside the building where Obama was meeting Aids activists in Khayelitsha.(Photograph: Chicago Tribune)

    4. Obama meets Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in Cape Town. Tutu said he found Obama to be ‘a very sincere, friendly, articulate and capable’ young man. (Photograph: AP)

    5. Obama meets Treatment Action Campaign members in Cape Town, who later suggested that he run for president. (Photograph: AP)

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