United States President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will visit South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania later this year. File photo: Reuters

Cape Town - The city has brushed aside criticism that its granting of the Freedom of the City to US presidential couple Barack and Michelle Obama was nothing but a DA “political game”.

And it has denied that it is trying to gate-crash their upcoming visit to South Africa.

The Obamas are on official state visits to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 to July 3 to strengthen “economic growth, investment and trade”, a White House press release stated.

On Sunday, media reported that the question of whether the Obamas would accept the award in person in Cape Town was causing strain between the DA and some groups in the province, including the opposition ANC, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the Media Review Network (MRN).

De Lille said the couple did not need to visit Cape Town to receive the honour; it could be done anywhere, even in Pretoria or Washington DC: “It’s just a matter of handing over a scroll - we don’t even need a big ceremony.”

The MJC said on Sunday that the reasons for its opposition to Obama receiving the award had not changed from those included in a letter the council wrote to President Jacob Zuma last year.

The joint letter by the MJC and the MRN said: “(Obama) has continued on the path of retaining the mantra of ‘permanent war’ accompanied by zero accountability.”

It termed the award nothing but a DA “political game”. Tony Ehrenreich, ANC leader in the city council, could not be reached for comment on Sunday. In June 2012, shortly after the award had been announced, he called it a “political gimmick” and said it should be withdrawn.

“We are agreed that our political statement will be followed by political action in the form of protest should Obama come to receive the award in the city,” said Ehrenreich at the time.

De Lille said on Sunday that, while she hoped the US first couple would visit Cape Town to accept the award, she understood the Obamas “weren’t coming specially to South Africa to accept it”.

She said they would only visit the city “if President Zuma finds space in his itinerary”. The city had no say regarding the itinerary of the Obamas, as official visits by heads of state were co-ordinated solely through the office of President Jacob Zuma.

The city announced in May 2012 that it was honouring the US president and his wife with its highest honour. “In a cynical age, there is a desperate need for universal hope,” said De Lille at the time. “Symbols that retain their meaning in these times, and ones that embody the qualities to which we aspire, are worthy of the highest recognition.”

De Lille said the correct procedure had been observed when deciding to award the honour, adding the city “doesn’t need permission” to award honours.

Cape Times