President Obama today signed the visitors book at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed, “on behalf of my family,” suggesting he was representing himself at the historic site instead of the United States.
From the press pool report:
The President and First Lady walked into the courtyard where the visitors book was waiting on a simple desk with no chairs. His hand was on the small of her back.
The President leaned over the table and the First Lady, who was wearing a gray wrap top looked over his shoulder as he signed the visitors book. They were a striking sight with the watchtower in the background.
He wrote for about three minutes. Then the First Lady took the pen and signed her name.
They then turned and silently walked back into the cell block.
Here is what the president wrote:
“On behalf of our family we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. 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.
Barack Obama and Michelle Obama
Obama is actually on Robben Island representing the United States – which is paying enormous sums for the trip – not his family. The occasion of America’s first African American president visiting the place where Mandela was imprisoned is historically significant for the United States, symbolically tying America’s own struggle for civil rights to that of South Africa and the world’s greatest living civil rights figure.
That Obama proclaimed himself and Mrs. Obama “deeply humbled” by the experience in fact adds an incongruously self-referential feature – and no small amount of hubris – to an event that should have little to do with the personal feelings of the Obamas themselves.