/ 25 June 2013

All systems go for Obama visit

Barack Obama.
Barack Obama.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane on Tuesday assured journalists that it's all systems go for Obama's arrival on Friday.

South Africa's first democratically elected president has entered a third week of hospitalisation at a Pretoria hospital, where he's battling a recurring lung infection.

His condition was described as critical by the presidency on Sunday.

Though the press conference was scheduled to share information about Obama's visit, Nkoana-Mashabane ended up reluctantly responding to questions about the possible impact of Madiba's health on Obama's visit.

This as anxiety increases across the country about the elder statesperson's health.

The international relations minister said it would have been Mandela's wish for government to continue functioning, regardless of his health woes.

"I'm sure he'll be very disappointed if he hears that because he is sick life has stopped in South Africa," said Nkoana-Mashabane, who referred to Mandela as "a fighter."

"He'll want us to continue fighting until all South Africans have received services."

While confirming that Obama "would have loved to visit Madiba" Nkoana-Mashabane said the current situation does not allow for Obama's wish to be granted.

"In South Africa when people are ill we give them the space to recover. Arrangements are being made for him [Obama] to visit Robben Island and possibly interact with Mandela's foundation," said Nkoana-Mashabane.

She added that government continues to pray and wish Madiba well.

"We are realistic about his age," she said about the 94 year old. Obama's arrives on Friday for a two-day official working visit that will see trade topping the agenda.

The international relations minister told journalists that the US government expressed interest in partnering South Africa "bilaterally and regionally".

President Jacob Zuma will on Saturday hold bilateral talks with Obama, where trade, development as well as peace and security are expected to be discussed.

SA and the USA
Also making it onto the agenda is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), America's trade Act that aims to enhance US market access for sub-Saharan African countries.

AGOA expands the duty-free benefits previously available only under the generalised system of preferences (GSP)programme.

South Africa wants the US to keep AGOA in place a bit longer.

"AGOA needs to be expanded so we export more and more of our products into the US economy, so that we don't continue being providers of raw materials only," Nkoana-Mashabane said.

Obama will be accompanied on the trip by the US trade representative Michael Froman as well as delegations from overseas private investment cooperation (OPIC), the export-import bank (EXIM) and the US trade and development agency.

While in South Africa Obama will, in addition to holding talks with Zuma, also preside over a Young African Leaders Initiative meeting at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto campus, visit Robben Island and a US-funded health facility at the Desmond Tutu centre in Noordhoek, Cape Town.

He will deliver his main speech at the University of Cape Town to mark the 59th anniversary of a speech made by Senator Robert Kennedy at the same venue.