Andrew England

Andrew England is the FT's Southern Africa Bureau Chief, appointed in 2011. Prior to this he was Abu Dhabi Bureau Chief from 2008 and Middle East and North Africa correspondent from 2007. He joined the FT in 2004 as East Africa correspondent. Before joining the FT, he was East Africa correspondent for the Associated Press.

When US President Barack Obama swept into a packed university auditorium at a campus in Soweto township and addressed his youthful audience, he spoke of a “more prosperous, more confident” Africa. It was, he said, “a region on the move.” He then handed over the baton to young Africans, giving them their chance to probe him at the “town hall”-style gathering at the “Young African Leaders Initiative.” And they did not disappoint.

They may have been addressing the world’s most powerful leader, a man whose election as the US’s first black president inspired a wave of optimism across the continent, but the youngsters from South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya – the birthplace of Obama’s father – showed few signs of nerves and certainly no deference. Rather they displayed an articulate confidence – one that reflects the aspirations of a youthful continent that is increasingly enjoying a more prominent role on the global stage. 

The “exclusive” footage by SABC, South Africa’s state broadcaster, was rich in content as the country’s top leaders chuckled to the background of clicking and flashing cameras.

There was President Jacob Zuma, his shirt undone at the neck, looking relaxed and carefree. His deputy in the ruling African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, appeared equally jovial and casual.

But there was one major problem – the centrepiece of the clip, Nelson Mandela, looked anything but happy. Rather, the revered former liberation leader and South Africa’s first black president stared vacantly into the distance, frail and apparently unaware of the commotion around him.

The result was the unseemly spectacle of a bunch of politicians parading themselves around an old man lauded as a national treasure, causing a storm of outrage to erupt on social media.

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In response to the backlash, the ANC felt the need to explain itself in a statement the following day.