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Michelle Obama Africa Trip: U.S. First Lady Visits Cape Town's District Six Museum

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Michelle Obama on Thursday toured a museum that memorializes the forced segregation of a once vibrant and racially mixed area of this South African coastal city.

The visit to the District Six Museum was a consolation prize to replace a long-planned ferry ride to Robben Island for the first lady and her traveling family members. The first lady's aides blamed the decision to abandon the half-hour ferry ride on high winds that made the Atlantic Ocean waters too rough to cross.

Former president Nelson Mandela was jailed on Robben Island for 18 years for his role in the movement to abolish apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separation. Apartheid ended in 1994, when Mandela was elected president several years after he again became a free man.

A tour of the closet-sized cell that housed Mandela also those years was expected to be an emotional high point of the trip. Aides said Mrs. Obama was looking forward to the visit.

Instead, she and her family spent about an hour at the museum on a tour led by the director and a former District Six resident.

They also heard stories from Ahmed Kathrada, a former political prisoner and apartheid icon who was jailed on Robben Island with Mandela.

Kathrada and Mandela are buddies. Kathrada was among seven men sentenced on June 12, 1964, with Mandela to life in prison for sabotage and plotting to overthrow the white government. Mandela was already in prison in a separate case but became a defendant in the so-called Rivonia treason trial because of documents found at Rivonia linking him to activities there.

The museum memorializes a sector of Cape Town that was established in 1867 as a racially mixed area but was forcibly segregated in 1965. Non-whites were removed to barren outlying areas and their homes in District Six were destroyed.

Mrs. Obama has been traveling with several family members, including daughters Malia and Sasha; her mother, Marian Robinson; and a niece and nephew. President Barack Obama stayed in Washington.

The first lady and her entourage arrived in South Africa late Monday and were to fly to Botswana on Friday. The visits are her first to either country.


Associated Press writer Donna Bryson in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


Darlene Superville can be reached at

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