Norwegian PM visits Liliesleaf farm

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iol pic wld Erna Solberg AFP Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Picture: ANDREAS SOLARO

Johannesburg - Visiting Liliesleaf Farm, where Nelson Mandela and his comrades plotted their armed struggle against apartheid, has inspired Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in her own battle for gender equality.

Solberg and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende on Tuesday met Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni, two of the surviving Rivonia Trial accused, at the house in Sandton which was the headquarters of uMkhonto weSizwe, (MK) the armed wing of the ANC, from 1961 until 1963, when the apartheid police raided it and captured most of the MK high command.

Mandela was already in jail on a previous charge, but the evidence which the police discovered at Liliesleaf of a plot to forcibly overthrow the apartheid government brought life sentences for him and his fellow MK commanders at the Rivonia Trial which followed.

Solberg arrived in South Africa on Tuesday on the first leg of a three-nation African tour to drum up support for a final push for Africa to try to reach the international Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the December 31, 2015 deadline.

She and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame co-chair the UN MDG Advocacy Group, tasked with jolting the international community to accelerate the pace of development to meet the eight MDGs, which include halving poverty, giving all kids at least a primary school education, ensuring girls get the same education as boys, and drastically reducing maternal, child and infant mortality.

Africa as a whole is unlikely to meet many of the goals, but the advocacy group hopes at least to get close.

Asked why she had made Liliesleaf Farm the first stop on her first African visit, Solberg said: “The aim of my visit is of course to focus on the Millennium Development Goals and to get more activity around them, especially girls and education.

“Women’s rights are interlinked with the struggle against apartheid. In a lot of countries in the world, if you have apartheid, it’s sex differences. You have some countries where I think women feel they are marginalised in the same way as blacks and coloureds were in the apartheid system.”

On her next stop, in Malawi, she and her government will more concretely address discrimination against girls, especially in education, which is a major problem in that country.

About 14 percent of primary-school age children there are not in school and most of those are girls, according to Norwegian officials. Aggravating that problem is that 50 percent of girls under 18 are already married.

Solberg said Malawi had been one of the countries to which Norway was giving most development aid. But Norway and other Western donor nations froze their development aid to Malawi last year after the massive “Cashgate” government corruption scandal surfaced while Joyce Banda was president. However, Solberg said yesterday that Norway would now resume financing education for girls.

On Tuesday, she also meet Mandela’s widow Graça Machel and participated in the 2014 Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Partners’ Forum in Sandton, which Machel was chairing.

After Malawi, Solberg and other members of the MDG Advocacy Group are to visit Rwanda for the group’s first meeting in Africa.

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