Clinton sees fresh start with South Africa

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a broad alliance with South Africa on Saturday as she basked in a warm welcome from President Jacob Zuma.

An upbeat Clinton shook her hips to the sounds of a
street brass choir in the slums of Cape Town, where she was mobbed by women and children at a housing project she had visited more than a decade ago as First Lady.

Clinton is emphasising public diplomacy during her 11-day, seven-nation tour of Africa, hoping to showcase the commitment of President Barack Obama’s administration to the continent.

But the top US diplomat is also seeking to build political alliances and met with Zuma in Durban on Saturday to solidify ties with Africa’s largest economy.

“We have the same goals for a peaceful, progressive, prosperous continent,” said Clinton after the 45-minute meeting, calling for a greater role for South Africa on global challenges including
climate change.

Clinton’s visit could help mend the uneasy relations that existed between the two countries under predecessors Thabo Mbeki and George Bush over such issues as Zimbabwe’s political crisis, the fight against HIV/Aids and the US invasion of Iraq.

At the housing project in Cape Town, Clinton was greeted with chants of “Long Live” and a Xhosa tune in her honour, and she planted flowers with top aides in the garden of a brick home newly built through microfinancing to the poor.

“When people recognise themselves and are given the tools and the training, really to empower themselves, that’s what’s lasting,” said Clinton.

“The women and the men do the work themselves and that’s what makes it important,” she said.

While the photo opportunity was carefully choreographed, the reaction was spontaneous. Hundreds of women and children jostled to shake hands with Clinton, whose police-escorted motorcade drove past ramshackle homes on rubbish-strewn streets.

The South African Homeless People’s Federation, which runs the site, was founded as apartheid ended and has built more than 50 000 homes, in a country where millions still live in shacks.

One woman showed a true entrepreneurial spirit, pleading with Clinton for some immediate support for the housing project.

When Clinton politely explained she did not have her purse, her top Africa aide, Johnnie Carson, promptly handed her $50 which Clinton put into the woman’s hand.

Washington has hoped for a stronger relationship with Zuma who took office in May, and on Saturday the South African leader signalled a fresh start to relations.

“In both countries there are two new administrations which are taking that relationship to a level higher. That is what we’re trying to do,” Zuma told journalists.

During his tenure as South African president Mbeki had bristled at US-and British-led attempts to punish Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Zuma in the past has supported a tougher approach on Zimbabwe.

Clinton, who on Friday clinched South Africa’s commitment to jointly work for greater reforms in Zimbabwe, has carefully avoided the appearance of pressuring Zuma.

She said that South Africa knew Zimbabwe’s woes due to the more than three million refugees who have come from the neighbouring country.

“People come to South Africa because you’re free and you’re dynamic and you’re making progress and you’re working together,” she said.

“And it’s tragic that your neighbours don’t have the same kind of opportunities in their own countries.” – AFP

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Shaun Tandon
Shaun Tandon
State Department correspondent @AFP. Formerly covering Japan, India

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