Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cape Town and the Obamas

The hullabaloo around the award of the Freedom of the City to the Obamas (now accepted) reminds me of that remarkable day in September 2006 when then senator Barack Obama addressed a packed meeting at the Centre for the Book, organised and hosted by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) and the US Consulate General in Cape Town.

Obama had been snubbed on his African tour — prior to commencing his run for the presidency announced a few months later — by President Thabo Mbeki and I seem to call was eventually received by minister Jeff Radebe.

In Cape Town he got an enthusiastic welcome. A few things stand out about meeting him on that occasion, when he spoke to you one-on-one it was as if he was the only person in the world who matters. (Bill Clinton also has that gift.)

When the SAIIA committee offered him tea at 5 o’clock before the meeting started he looked puzzled: “Tea? No thank you, water would be fine.” And of course he posed for a photo with the committee members.


His address to the mainly young audience was magic and our first taste of his extraordinary rhetorical gifts. He was particularly impressive responding to the many questions.


  • Sheila Camerer has been a member of South Africa's Parliament since 1987. She has worked as deputy minister of justice, leader in the National Assembly of the now-defunct New National Party and a member of the Judicial Service Commission. After the demise of the NNP she has worked as justice and foreign affairs spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance, among other roles in the party. She is now a member of parliamentary portfolio committees on justice and constitutional development, constitutional review, foreign affairs and others.


  1. Heinrich Heinrich 12 June 2013

    How the wheel turns.

  2. Yaj Yaj 12 June 2013

    Wonderful rhetorical gifts, but that is where the magic stops. However , Obama is a duplicitous war-monger and drone-bomber whose Nobel Peace Prize is quite undeserved and should be retracted.The drone attacks are of dubious legality in terms of international law, have instilled terror in many civilian communities around the world , caused hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths and casualties. These cowardly and inhumane acts have only served to stoke more anger and encourage the recruitment of would-be jihadist terrorists.

  3. The Critical Cynic The Critical Cynic 13 June 2013

    Your sense of recall is amusing :)
    Presumably you meant to say that when he spoke to you one-on-one it was as if YOU were the only person in the world who matters to HIM?

    Many people have the gift of when they speak to you one-on-one it is as if they are the only person in the world who matters!

    Impressive oratory skills aside his track record smacks of many examples of duplicity, some of which Yaj outlines above. US politics is rotten to the core and Obama is turning out to be a huge disappointment to those who thought he would be any different to his predecessors. President Zuma on the other hand is living up to many peoples expectations, unfortunately many of them quite negative…

  4. Wow Wow 13 June 2013

    @yaj, if you are wearing nike/adidas or any other american brand (levis/diesel) and listen to your tunes on an ipod or ipad I call you a hypocrit. if the americans are this big bad bear that offends your morals do not support macdonalds or any other product that has an american tag on it.

  5. Lennon Lennon 13 June 2013

    You’re welcome to remain dazzled by his charm. It will not change the fact that he’s a murderer.

    @ Yaj: There’ nothing dubious about the legality of using drones. If you drop bombs on a country, then it’s a declaration of war. The delivery method and target makes no difference.

  6. Impedimenta Impedimenta 13 June 2013

    This interesting anecdote has left me puzzled. “when he spoke to you one-on-one it was as if he was the only person in the world who matters.” This comes across as conceited. I think of ‘one-on-one’ as being able to interact with a person as if they were the only other person in the room.

    So nice to see Sheila Camerer is still around!

  7. Lewellyn Zille Lewellyn Zille 13 June 2013

    His human rights record is appalling, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, assisting an Apartheid regime…

  8. Yaj Yaj 14 June 2013

    @ WOW
    I don’t support any of the brands that you are ranting about.So what , anyway. It does not detract from the facts.

  9. yad yada yad yada 22 June 2013

    Oh Pleeze! It’s such an obvious attempt to raise the respect for this person who has shown no backbone in the face of the american lobbyists (equivalent to so called “Islamists”?) and corporat(ist) system that is trying to resow it’s seed in South Africa.

Leave a Reply