US: Don’t let Obama ‘selfie’ distract from Mandela memorial

The United States is officially not amused by the online focus on US President Barack Obama's group self-portrait with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her UK counterpart David Cameron at Tuesday's state memorial service for Nelson Mandela.

"I know that I'm going to focus on what was most important yesterday [Tuesday] … I'm not going to be distracted by petty sidelines," said US ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, when asked about the incident.

Gaspard also condemned "petty cynicism" that could distract from properly remembering Mandela.

A picture of Thorning-Schmidt taking a smartphone picture of herself, Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron quickly went viral, with some users on social media – mostly from outside South Africa – commenting that it seemed an inappropriate thing to do at a memorial service. But the photographer responsible for capturing the moment, Agence France-Presse's Roberto Schmidt, disagreed.

"I captured the scene reflexively," Schmidt recounted in a blog post.

"All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn't see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa."

South Africans seemed impressed that so many world leaders had travelled to the memorial, and were unsurprised that they socialised while at the service. In the FNB Stadium, Obama was warmly received, and widely praised for his touching remarks.

On Wednesday, Gaspard also took no official notice of either the behaviour of the crowd at the memorial – which the ANC characterised as problematic – or the booing of President Jacob Zuma.

The visiting US delegation, Gaspard said when asked about their reaction to the atmosphere in the stadium, had "remarked on the positive outpouring of support" for Mandela and his legacy.

He described the audience as "spirited folks".

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

Labour minister paints four bleak scenarios for the UIF if...

The fund has been selling assets to make Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme payouts

AG’s report reveals the municipalities where money goes to waste

Municipalities are in complete disarray, with many of them flagged by the auditor-general for deliberate lack of accountability and tolerance for transgressions by political and administrative leadership while billions are squandered.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday