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Continued: WHITE HOUSE NOTEBOOK: Tutu welcomes Obama 'home,' congratulates him on winning re-election

  • Article by: NEDRA PICKLER
  • Last update: June 30, 2013 - 3:20 PM

He said in a speech at the University of Cape Town that she is "now 15." But the fact of the matter is Malia doesn't turn 15 until Thursday. She was born on the Fourth of July.

Malia might have appreciated the premature aging, since most teens cannot wait to grow up.

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Before the speech, Obama and his family toured the Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela spent nearly 20 years as a political prisoner before he was released and elected South Africa's first black president.

Obama spent more than 20 minutes inside the tiny cell that housed Mandela for 18 years.

After his family left, Obama remained alone inside the cell that now is a monument to Mandela, a man Obama says is a "personal hero." The president gazed out of a large window with thick white bars. He picked up and examined a small, metal bowl that sat on a small, wooden table before turning his attention to a thin mat with pillows and a brown blanket, on which Mandela would have slept.

Obama visited Robben Island in 2006, when he was a U.S. senator, but the tour was a first for his wife, Michelle, and daughters, Malia and Sasha.

"There was something different about bringing my children," Obama said, opening his speech at the university. He said they now appreciate more the sacrifices that Mandela and others had made for freedom. "I knew this was an experience they would never forget," Obama said.

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Before leaving the island, Obama signed the prison's guest book with a message likely to be seen by the countless visitors who will follow him.

The large book sat open on a simple wooden desk, in a courtyard rimmed by a high concrete wall topped with barbed wire. U.S. Secret Service agents made use of an old guard tower, staffing it with sharpshooters who scanned the horizon with binoculars. The prison was closed to the public for Obama's visit.

Obama, casually dressed in a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves and khaki slacks, leaned over the desk and wrote for several minutes with first lady Michelle Obama at his side. She signed her name, too.

"On behalf of our family, we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield," the president wrote. "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 copied his message from a piece of typewritten paper an aide had set down on the book before the president came into the courtyard. He wrote slowly in cursive, apparently not wanting to make a mistake. He left behind the black marker he used to write the message, as well as the note he worked from.

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