JOHANNESBURG - President Obama paid tribute to South Africa's first
black president Sunday, saying Nelson Mandela's long struggle against
apartheid and for equality "showed us that one man's courage can move
Obama, the first black U.S. president, visited the
wind-swept Robben Island prison off the coast at Cape Town where Mandela
was confined for much of his 27 years as a political prisoner. The
president later told young South Africans that the critically ill former
leader's vision of equality and opportunity should remain theirs as
On Robben Island, Obama stood with his wife Michelle and
daughters Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12, in the cramped cell that was home to
Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was in prison before his release in
1990. They viewed the lime quarry where Mandela worked at hard labor and
contracted the lung damage that still afflicts him.
stand within the walls that once surrounded Nelson Mandela, I knew this
was an experience they would never forget," Obama said, referring to his
"I knew that they now appreciated a little bit more the
sacrifices that Madiba and others had made for freedom," Obama added,
referring to Mandela by his clan name.
The president and his
family flew to Cape Town on Sunday after meeting here with members of
Mandela's family and speaking by phone with his wife, Graca Machel.
Obama did not visit Mandela in the Pretoria hospital where he has been
in intensive care since June 8 suffering from complications of a lung
infection at the age of 94.
He visited the island prison off shore
from the coastal city and later, at the University of Cape Town,
reflected on the distinction he shares with Mandela as the first men of
color to lead their nations.
"Nelson Mandela showed us that one man's courage can move the world," Obama said.
was flanked by a diverse array of students, underscoring Mandela's
vision for a unified, multiracial "rainbow nation" for the country once
led by a white racist government that imposed a system of apartheid, or
In his own effort to carve out a piece of that
legacy, Obama unveiled a new initiative to double access to electric
power in sub-Saharan Africa with an initial $7 billion investment from
the United States. Obama vowed to help bring "light where there is
"It's the connection that's needed to plug
Africa into the grid of the global economy," Obama said of the
initiative, dubbed "Power Africa."
Private power companies such
as General Electric and Symbion Power will also make an additional $9
billion in commitments to the power project, which will focus on
expanding access to electricity in six African countries: Ethiopia,
Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Obama outlined a U.S.
policy toward Africa that focuses on increasing the region's ability to
support itself economically, politically and militarily. He said
Africans must take much of the responsibility for achieving that goal
but pledged American assistance.
"Ultimately I believe Africans
should make up their own minds about what serves African interests,"
Obama said. "We trust your judgment, the judgment of ordinary people. We
believe that when you control your destiny, if you got a handle on your
governments, then governments will promote freedom and opportunity,
because that will serve you."
The White House said Obama's guide
during the prison tour was 83-year-old South African politician Ahmed
Kathrada, who also was held at the prison for nearly two decades and
guided Obama on his 2006 visit to the prison as a U.S. senator.
president also saw the prison courtyard where Mandela planted
grapevines that remain today, and where he and others in the dissident
leadership discussed politics and hid writings from their guards.
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," Obama wrote in the
The tour included a stop at the lime quarry where
Mandela toiled and developed the lung problems that sent him to the
hospital for most of the month. Obama commented on the "hard labor"
Mandela endured and asked Kathrada to remind his daughters, Malia and
Sasha, how long Mandela was in prison.
After the tour, Obama visited a community center with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
said the U.S. seeks "a partnership that empowers Africans to access
greater opportunity in their own lives." He dismissed the notion that
the U.S. sought to meddle in Africa's affairs, saying his country would
benefit from the continent's ability to manage its own affairs
economically, politically and militarily.
The initiative is aimed at expanding the reach of power grids and developing solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power.
is in South Africa as part of a week-long trip to three countries on
the continent. His first stop was in Senegal where the president met
with Senegalese President Macky Sall. On Monday, Obama will head to
Tanzania in east Africa for two days.
His stay in South Africa has
been overshadowed in part by Mandela's failing health. The
anti-apartheid hero has been hospitalized for most of June and is said
to be in critical condition.