Soweto – US First Lady Michelle Obama had inspiring words for the youth on Wednesday morning, telling them, among other things, that they can be the change they want to see in the world.
Addressing hundreds of people gathered at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto on Wednesday, Obama appeared visibly moved when the audience stood and sang as she approached the stage.
Placing her hands over her heart, she thanked the crowd who had gathered for the Young African Women Leaders Forum as she seemed to choke back tears.
Obama, who is a strong advocate for human rights, started her speech by touching on South Africa’s history, the importance of Women’s Day and the contributions of struggle icons such as the late Albertina Sisulu.
She also honoured the class of 1976, and challenged her younger audience, asking the crowd: “What generation will you be?”
Using her husband’s “Yes, we can” campaign slogan to motivate the crowd, she challenged them saying, “no matter how young, you’re ready now to make the difference.”
“You can be the generation that ends HIV and Aids in our time, the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease.
“… You can be the generation that holds your leaders accountable for open, honest government at every level, government that stamps out corruption,” Obama, who was wearing a stunning blue outfit, told the cheering crowd.
She said individuals should gather strength from the country’s history of the liberation struggle to fight modern ills that the country now faces.
She said it was because of the selfless people who died in the country for freedom that she was standing here today as the First Lady of the United States of America.
“And all of you, the young people of today, are the heirs of this blood, sweat, sacrifice and love. So the question today is: What will you make of that inheritance?”
Her speech also touched on other topics such as race, discrimination, democracy, and development.
The first lady said it didn’t take much for one to make a difference and encouraged them to end the stigma that women were second class citizens.
Although it won’t be easy, she said leadership can be the smallest of acts and in most unlikely of places.
“If anyone ever tells you that you shouldn’t or you can’t, then I want you to say with one voice – the voice of a generation – you tell them, ‘Yes, we can’.”
Obama challenged South Africa to lead the continent. “As my husband has said: ‘Africa is a fundamental part of our inter-connected world. And when it comes to defining challenges of our times, creating jobs, promoting democracy and development, for all this, the world is looking to Africa as a vital partner.”
Earlier, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane addressed the crowd, highlighting the plight of marginalised women and children. Graca Machel – who welcomed Obama on stage – as well as the ANC’s Baleka Mbete also touched on women’s issues and how women can stand up and take the lead.
After her speech, Obama moved around the church, greeting some of the dignitaries at the event, such as business mogul Richard Maponya, former Miss SA and businesswoman Basetsane Khumalo, the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko and 5FM DJ Anele Mdoda.
People in the room took out their cameras and mobile phones to capture the first lady, amid tight security.
Gqibelo Dandala, founder of Future of the African Daughter (FOTAD), a non-profit girl child development project working with teens in townships and rural areas, couldn’t contain her excitement when the first lady mentioned her hard work.
Speaking to BuaNews, she said Obama’s speech was what she needed to push harder to ensure the dreams of thousands of African children are realised.
“As Mrs Obama mentioned, history has shown us that courage can be contagious… she has motivated me. I will now push to ensure practical changes follow. I will turn ‘yes we can’ to ‘yes we do’,” said Dandala.
“We are being given perspective on what it means to be a young, African woman leader. An honour, also a responsibility,” Khadija Patel said, who was part of the 75 women attending the forum.
Zimbabwean anchor and reporter Robyn Kriel, who also got a special mention in Obama’s speech, said she was privileged to be part of such an event.
“I am so honoured to be mentioned in the first lady’s speech, in the presence of inspiring women such as Graca Machal and Baleka Mbete,” said Kriel.
Obama will spend the rest of the day visiting landmarks of the anti-apartheid struggle area with her mother and her two daughters. – BuaNews