Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pretoria-Cape Town Aug 7-8

This is what I woke up to this morning: The Mother City. Great to be back!!

Yesterday was sort of a blurr. We spent the whole day in Pretoria, where Clinton had a series of meetings at South Africa's brand new foreign ministry building. Its am impressive site -- modern, African, looks a bit like an airline terminal. We were parked in a holding room while she shuttled from meeting to meeting.

It was a nice day, tho, because I saw a lot of old familiar faces. Talked a bit to Nick Kotch, who hired me for Reuters South Africa, and saw some other South African journalists that I knew from my time here. Felt like old home week. Clinton did hold a final press conference where the story was about Syria (and specifically her warning that external powers should think twice about supporting "proxies" or "terrorist fighters" as the conflict grinds toward end game).

After that it was off to the State Guest House -- one of my favorite buildings in South Africa, a real Cape Dutch confection -- where there was a gala dinner. We were invited to sit at one of the tables and what had threatened to be a dull diplomatic dinner ended up being a lot of fun. The South Africans had arranged one of their big singing stars, Judith Sephuma, as the performer and she belted out a lot of familiar hits: Pata Pata, Brenda Fassie's "Weekend Special", and others. She was dancing and the band was great, and pretty soon Clinton and everyone else was up on the dance floor. The whole place had the atmosphere of an off-the-hook bar mitzvah -- balloons over the table, strobe lights, a weird mix of people on the dance floor. The last song was "Shosholoza", that great South African anthem, and everybody sang while Clinton and the South African foreign minister and all the others at their table stood holding hands and swaying. A little over the top maybe but a fantastic way to end the day.

Because we were there as guests and the dancing part was officially "off the record" there was some consternation about whether the photographers and the video crew would be able to use their pictures of the party. But eventually Clinton's people relented and allowed us to report it: the pictures and video got big play and I think were probably a PR bonus for her (not that she needs it at this point).

After the two hour flight we arrived in Cape Town. The weather was warming (it actually snowed in Johannesburg the day we were there, a rare event) and the city even at night looked beautiful. We are staying at a very nice hotel down at the V+A Waterfront ... a bit removed from town, but I can't complain when I woke up to a perfect sea view sunrise (not to mention a groaning breakfast buffet).

Clinton visited a clinic in Delft, a township in the Cape Flats, where she signed a deal which will put South Africa in charge of more of its PEPFAR programming ... part of the broader effort to begin shifting the responsibility more to recipient countries. The folks on the street were sort of stunned to see Clinton's huge motorcade screaming past.

Then we headed to the University of the Western Cape, where she gave her big speech on South Africa. It was a good speech, if a little bit predictable: South Africa should be doing more to advance democracy and human rights around the world to honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela. It was personal -- she talked a lot about her own reminiscences of Mandela -- and firm but respectful. The nice surprise was that I saw Phiwe, the South African student who we had hosted just a month or so ago for his DC summer internship. We talked a little bit but there wasn't much time but we are do to go out to dinner tonight.

I was back at the hotel by 2 p.m, finished the story by 3 and went out for a walk ... all the way up Long Street back to Kloof, where we used to stay when we visited. Cape Town always looks spectacular, and it was a spectacular day with the sort of flinty summer sunshine glare. I bought a few things, and walked back down to the hotel. We are supposed to meet Clinton for an off the record social this evening, and then dinner with Phiwe & Co. I could easily hang out here for a lot longer, but if it has to be brief at least it feels like it was satisfying.

I'm a little worried about the next leg of the trip -- when we set off from Cape Town tomorrow morning, it is going to be Nigeria, Ghana, Benin and then Turkey all in rapid succession. We'll see how it all works out!