Obama 'Humbled' to Visit Mandela's Robben Island Jail

By BBC News

US President Barack Obama has toured Robben Island – the jail in which Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 years.

He said he and his family were “deeply humbled” to visit the prison once inhabited by Mr Mandela – who remains critically ill in hospital.

Mr Obama went on to give a speech at the University of Cape Town and launch a multi-billion-dollar electricity initiative.

The US leader did not visit Mr Mandela, but met the Mandela family in private.

Security was stepped up during this final Cape Town leg of his time in South Africa, following clashes on Saturday between riot police and anti-Obama protesters in Soweto.

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At the scene

Schoolchildren arrive with balloons in tribute for former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated for a recurring lung infection.
image of Joseph WinterJoseph WinterBBC News, Pretoria

More than three weeks after Nelson Mandela was taken to Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, there is still a steady stream of well-wishers leaving flowers and tributes to add to the huge collection outside the gates.

On Sunday morning, two church groups were singing hymns, while veterans from Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing set up by Mr Mandela, arrived with a portrait of their founder wearing a military uniform.

The tributes come from around the world – Pakistan, Mexico and France – as well as several African countries. And in a testimony to Mr Mandela’s dream of creating a rainbow nation, all of South Africa’s racial groups were represented.

As she left a bunch of white chrysanthemums, Raksha Daya said that like many South Africans, she connects with the former president on a deeply personal level, like a grandfather. “It’s a sense of love.”

‘Heroes’

Mr Obama and the first family visited Mr Mandela’s bleak cell as well as the lime quarry – overlooked by a concrete watchtower – where anti-apartheid fighters including Mr Mandela were forced to undertake hours of back-breaking labour.

Mr Mandela was at the prison for 18 years and his long history of lung problems can be traced to the tuberculosis he contracted there – which he attributed to the dampness of his cell.

Later, Mr Obama wrote in the guest book in the prison courtyard: “On behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield.

“The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”

Mr Obama also visited a community project before delivering a keynote address at the University of Cape Town.

It was the same venue where 47 years ago, US Senator Robert Kennedy gave his famed “ripple of hope” speech, which gave inspiration to those fighting the racially divisive policies of apartheid rule and linked their struggle with that of the US civil rights movement.

Mr Obama paid tribute to South Africa’s achievements over the past two decades but urged young Africans to fulfil Mr Mandela’s legacy.

“Nelson Mandela showed us that one man’s courage can move the world,” he said.

More needed to be done to tackle poverty and disease, he said, adding that fear too often prevailed in Africa. For as long as war raged, democracy and economic opportunity could not take hold, he said.

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Nelson Mandela: Key dates

Nelson Mandela in June 2010
  • 1918 Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1944 Joins African National Congress
  • 1956 Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
  • 1962 Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964 Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990 Freed from prison
  • 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 Elected first black president
  • 1999 Steps down as leader

Mr Obama also announced a $7bn (£4.6bn) five-year initiative to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, in partnership with African countries and the private sector.

Mr Obama arrived in South Africa from Senegal on Friday. On Monday, he is travelling to Tanzania, the final stage of his African tour.

Family row

Meanwhile Mr Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, has said he will oppose a court action brought by the rest of the family, seeking to exhume the bodies of his father, Makgatho, two of Nelson Mandela’s daughters and two other relatives.

The rest of the family want the remains to be reburied in Qunu, where the former South African president wants to be laid to rest, while Mandla, an ANC MP, wants them to stay in the nearby village of Mvezo, Nelson Mandela’s birthplace, where he is building a museum dedicated to his grandfather.

South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper quotes local chiefs in the area as saying that Madiba, as Nelson Mandela is known in the country, will not be at peace until this issue is resolved.

On Friday, a court granted an interim action saying the bodies could be exhumed and reburied but Mandla Mandela says he was not aware of the case until it was reported in the media and he is now opposing it

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About Pedro Heizer

I'm a person of simple taste, all I need is some country music, Batman, Star Wars, sports, coffee, and most importantly Jesus Christ, because what profits a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? View all posts by Pedro Heizer

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