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South Africa Ready for Obama Visit

  • Tatenda Gumbo

South Africa said Tuesday it is ready for United States President Barack Obama’s highly-anticipated visit to the country Friday.

Speaking in Pretoria Tuesday, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa is now ready for the visit.

President Obama is expected in Senegal on Wednesday. He proceeds Friday to South Africa for a three-day visit where he will meet President Jacob Zuma and other political leaders, youth and university student groups.

The president will also preside over a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) meeting at the University of Johannesburg, Soweto campus, a visit to Robben Island and a health facility funded by the U.S at the Desmond Tutu Centre in Noordhoek.

He will also be delivering a public address at the University of Cape Town.

Some South African communist groups, student organizations, Muslim groups, unions and other political organizations are planning what they hope will be large protests over Obama's visit.

The groups say they will demonstrate for the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for the stoppage of any wiretapping of emails or phone calls and against the involvement of the U.S. in conflicts throughout the world, including Syria.

Minister Nkoana-Mashabane said protesters targeting Mr. Obama’s visit should be lawful. She said President Obama, like other heads of state, would be treated the same and citizens are welcome to practice their democratic right and protest if they chose to.

“In a democratic setting, there will be those who still feel they also want to be heard, as long as we do it peacefully and following the laws of the land, we think that should just be,” said Mashabane.

She did stress that the government however was elated and satisfied to have President Obama.

In a related development, Human Rights Watch says President Obama should stress the need for media freedoms to be respected during his visit to Africa. The watchdog said in a press release Tuesday countries like Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe are hostile to freedom of expression and association.

“Although civil society is vibrant and growing in some African countries, many governments are increasingly hostile when it comes to respecting rights to free expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, and other civil society organizations operating in highly limiting political environments,” the watchdog said in a statement.

The rights group also wants Mr. Obama to also focus on Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Tiseke Kasambala hopes that President Jacob Zuma, who is the Southern African Development Community facilitator in Zimbabwe and President Obama, will press for more reforms before Zimbabwe holds elections.

“President Zuma has demonstrated some very positive leadership in addressing the human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, and he has done a good job pushing for electoral reforms before elections are held, but of course a lot more needs to be done when it comes to the reforms ... And so we think that President Obama and President Zuma will work together to press for key electoral reforms,” said Kasambala.

Mr. Obama is expected to visit Tanzania after his South African visit.
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