Its old news now that when Barack Obama, then a US Senator visited South Africa in 2006 (as part of a four-nation African tour), he stopped in Cape Town to visit with Desmond Tutu and met with AIDS activist Zackie Achmat and members of the Treatment Action Campaign (the link is to a video in which, among others, a Treatment Action Campaign activist tells Obama the South African government is “toxic minded”). and publicly ridiculed the AIDS dissident views of President Thabo Mbeki and his then-Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. The only government minister willing to meet with Obama at the time was Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Finance.
It is clear that Obama’s victory struck a chord in South Africa. Pundits are already asking what the “Obama Effect” would mean for that country’s politics? Some inside South Africa, like The Times editor Ray Hartley, are wondering if the country can produce its own Obama. (Spoiler alert: Hartley’s initial verdict is more no than yes).
Meanwhile, over here the Boston Globe, in editorial comment about the goings-on with the ruling African National Congress, also had to throw an Obama reference in there:
‘… It is a good thing that former Mbeki loyalists held a convention last weekend in Johannesburg to form a new political party. Whatever their motives, and whatever their political ideology, their action holds the promise of giving South Africa’s politics qualities that have been lacking. Among these are limits on shady dealing that come only with a constant competition for power; a prod to make those who govern responsive to the needs of the governed; and a path for criticism of the ANC for invoking the glorious past to distract attention from its failure to relieve the poverty and unemployment of the present. One rousing moment in a convention speech by a former vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa, Barney Pityana, caught the 6,000 delegates’ hunger for a completely different kind of politics. They stomped and cheered when he said, “Change is not just something that is dreamed of in America by Barack Obama.” ‘