Isn’t it inspiring? Once again, the Obama family is bringing peace and raising esteem for America in a foreign land by their very presence.
Back on March 21, New York Times reporters Alexei Barrionuevo and Jackie Calmes with Obama gushed “Brazilians who gathered at a plaza trying to catch a glimpse of him said that he had inspired millions in this country because of his African heritage.” Paris correspondent Scott Sayare on September 23, 2010 praised Obama’s magical abilities: “But anti-American sentiment, once pervasive in these neighborhoods, seems to have been all but erased since the election of Mr. Obama, who has proved to be a powerful symbol of hope here and a powerful diplomatic tool.”
This time it’s first lady Michelle Obama’s turn to work a personal diplomatic miracle, in South Africa. Celia Dugger reported from Soweto for Thursday’s “South Africa Embraces Mrs. Obama With Fervor.”
The prickly ambivalence that South Africans often show toward the United States, which is often perceived here as an overbearing superpower, seems to have been suspended for Mrs. Obama. South Africans have embraced her with stirring emotion since she arrived on Monday, and she has been hugging them back, one by one, stop after stop.
Both the choreography of her appearances, and the nationally broadcast speech she gave here on Wednesday, have evoked the commonalities between the freedom struggles of black people in South Africa and the United States -- an approach that has resonated with South Africans.
At the Regina Mundi church, which was both a sanctuary and an organizing hub for those fighting apartheid, much like black churches in the United States during the civil rights movement, Mrs. Obama told the story of young people in both countries “who marched until their feet were raw, who endured beatings and bullets and decades behind bars, who risked and sacrificed everything they had for the freedom they deserved.”
“It is because of them,” she said, “that I stand here before you as first lady of the United States of America.”
Donald Gips, the American ambassador, who has cultivated friendships with a wide range of South Africans, said he believed that Mrs. Obama’s visit would contribute to a further warming of relations between the United States and Africa’s leading democracy.
Having the first African-American couple in the White House has not hurt relations between South Africa and the United States, either.
Mrs. Obama spoke to each guest individually, those present said. Several guests said they were touched that Mrs. Obama quoted Albertina Sisulu, a beloved mother of the antiapartheid movement who died this month at age 92. And they chuckled when she told them her husband was “pouty” that he had been unable to come to South Africa with her.