Africa

South Africa: Michelle Obama pays tribute to Soweto

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Media captionMrs Obama said that people in both South Africa and the United States of America had fought for freedoms the current generation were enjoying

US First Lady Michelle Obama has paid tribute to apartheid victims on a visit to South Africa's township of Soweto.

She was speaking to young women from across Africa in a church that became a landmark in the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Mrs Obama said the successful fight against apartheid as well as the US civil rights movement should inspire them to overcome the problems of today, such as HIV or violence against women.

On Monday, Mrs Obama met the former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The trip to South Africa is the first lady's second official solo visit abroad since her husband Barack Obama became president in 2009.

'Queen of our world'

It is just more than 35 years since the Soweto uprising, a black student protest against a policy forcing them to learn in Afrikaans.

The riots spread to other townships and was seen as a milestone in the growth of the movement against white minority rule, which was finally ended in 1994.

Mrs Obama delivered her keynote address in the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, which was at the heart of the uprising.

Introducing the first lady, Mr Mandela's wife, Graca Michel, spoke of the symbolism of her visit.

"You may have been a toddler when [the] 1976 uprising took place. Now, in your adulthood, you come to us and you connect that history, and to say the triumphs of yesterday have to be the triumphs of today," she said.

"Regina Mundi's name in Latin means queen of the world. And we welcome you as a daughter of African heritage, and we can call you 'the queen of our world.'"

More than 70 young women leaders from across the continent were brought to the church to hear the speech and to meet Mrs Obama.

She reminded the audience about the struggle for freedom in South Africa and the US.

"The story of young people 20 years ago, 50 years ago, 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," she said.

"And it is because of them we are able to gather here today.

"It is because of them that so many of these young women leaders can now pursue their dreams. It is because of them that I stand before you as first lady of the United States of America."

Mrs Obama said the successful fight against apartheid should inspire young people today.

"You can be the generation that ends HIV/Aids in our time, the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease," she said.

Image caption Nelson Mandela, 92, does not usually accept visitors anymore

"You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption."

Correspondents say her speech was often interrupted by applause and ended with cheers from the congregation.

But the BBC's Pumza Fihlani says outside the church, where there was a huge security presence, the crowds who had gathered to hear the speech were disappointed.

The promised big screen was erected a block away from the church at the last minute, which was not communicated to residents, so they could not hear the first lady's speech.

Mrs Obama is accompanied on her trip by her mother, two daughters, niece and nephew.

The visit will also include going to Robben Island, where Mr Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years in jail.

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