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Africa

Pretoria prefers machine to man

Obama landed in Pretoria ... but the crowds seemed more interested in his helicopter than the man himself.
Last modified: 29 Jun 2013 21:30
Obama touches down in Pretoria

I can safely tell you that most Africans have never seen seen anything like this - except maybe on TV. I am one of those visibly intrigued onlookers.

It started with a very loud noise of helicopters. You hear them before you see them - and when they do appear overhead, it's quite a spectacle.

Saturday in this part of Pretoria started off very quiet. Nothing much happens around the government union buildings over the weekend.

Right now I can see a couple walking their dog, a few joggers and couple of pedestrains going to work.

It's routine. If I'd woken up a little excited about seeing Obama from a distance, I have gotten over it. There is no pomp or fanfare, no excited fans and not even an anti-Obama protester upset about his foreign policy!

Disappointed by the apparent lack of interest from my fellow Africans I take a stroll to the service station to buy a cup of hot chocolate.

Then I hear a few women shrieking and then shouting, "oh, he is here".

We can't see him just yet but we can definitely hear him.

US president Barack Obama's grand entrance startled a few people. They rush out of their apartment buildings to catch a glimpse of him.

The helicopters he and his entourage arrive in are huge.

"You don't get things like this in Africa," says one bystander.

"Imagine Jacob Zuma or Robert Mugabe arriving in a beast like this," another chuckles, "maybe we will take them more seriously?"

"Our African leaders must get serious," says another, "I see why Zuma wants a new plane. He wants to look cool too."

The sparse crowd that watch Obama's helicopter land seem more impressed with the helicopter than who was in it.

It's not as if Pretorians didn't know Obama was coming, it's almost as if they didn't care.

Some roads were blocked off and there was a bit more security than usual - that could have been it. But I managed to walk to the park by the Union Building with ease and so did a few others.

Presidents Obama and Zuma discussed mainly trade and aid issues. But most people out here didn't seem to care.

"Will it help us, the poor people," says an old man, "I don't think so. What are bilateral talks when I can't even feed my family. It's a waste of taxpayers money."

Nearby a woman in her car screams at a traffic officer for inconveniencing her day because the road was sealed off.

I am impressed with the cop. He was clearly angry with her but he remained professional.

Anyway, back to the helicopters. The engines have been fired up and Obama is about to leave for Johannesburg.

There are a lot more people this time. Cameras ready to film the "beasts" taking off.

In Johannesburg, Obama was 'the man' when he visited students in Soweto.  But it seems here in Pretoria his flying machines were the talk of the town.