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African press review 28 July 2015

Text by: William Niba
4 min

Has South Africa forgotten its war veterans? And fantastic tales from Mama Sarah Obama about a dream reunion with her presidential grandson.

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South Africa's Mail and Guardian examines the plight of the country’s anti-apartheid veterans. The Johannesburg newspaper ‘s investigative multimedia feature is about the “forgotten freedom fighters", veterans of the Azania People's Liberation Army APLA, complaining that they sacrificed their youth for the liberation struggle only to be left without pensions, homes and jobs.

APLA was the controversial military wing of the Pan-African Congress up to the 1960s, and in the 1990s were accused of orchestrating soft target attacks on whites including the 1993 Saint James massacre which left 11 people dead.

Some of the veterans who spoke to Mail and Guardian say they joined the force at the tender age of 16 and were ready to sacrifice their youth, their freedom and their lives for the liberation of South Africa. After the advent of democracy in 1994, the government set up processes aimed at integrating the fighters back into society including the special pensions act of 1996, but most of the APLA veterans did not qualify because they needed to be 30 years old then to benefit from the scheme.

The younger ones were left to fend for themselves, according to the newspaper. More than two decades later their condition has been compounded by psychological, economic and social hardships. Some of the freedom fighter who returned home after 18 years in places like Tanzania are homeless and unemployed, and traumatised by their past with no families to come back to. Mail and Guardian says up to 14,000 veterans are in dire need of emergency assistance to make a living in South Africa.

And Kenya’s Daily Nation publishes a fantastic interview its editors did with Barack Obama’s grandmother as the US president ended an emotional homecoming to the land of his father. Mama Sarah Obama told the newspaper that her famous grandson is Luo in heart and soul.

The 94-year-old laughed as she relived what was the biggest family meeting, which President Obama later described as wonderful, recalling that she took a traditional Luo three-legged stool, beckoning on the president to come and sit on it which he did right in front of her.

“I was in the same hotel with him and Auma (the president’s sister) brought him to my room,” Mama Sarah said, her face beaming with delight. The Grand Ma, who was President Obama’s guest during his January 2009 inauguration, also revealed what the US leader ate during his stay in Nairobi.

"He is a Luo and he ate our foods," Mama Sarah stated, obviously delighted that despite the maximum security measures around her grandson, he did her the pleasure of eating omena, chicken and vegetables, the traditional staple of his father’s ethnic group. Asked about the meals served during the dinner, attended by about 30 family members, a proud Mama Sarah spoke as a real chef counting the dishes: aliya, osuga, dek, apoth, mitoo and ngege.

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