Robben Island in lockdown for Obama
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Cape Town - US officials have been working flat out for the past month to secure Robben Island for Barack and Michelle Obama on Sunday.
Fields were cleared for five helicopters to land, US security personnel installed new telephone lines and the museum’s VW sedan emblem was covered for the visit.
The presidential couple and daughters Malia and Sasha have turned down a safari in Tanzania for the island trip.
Robben Island Museum tourism manager Thulani Mabaso, a former political prisoner, said the US was more “sensitive about security” than any other visitor. Mabaso said he didn’t know how many US security officials had been deployed.
He has been part of a task team preparing for the visit over the past month, including US staff, SANDF, police, navy and museum personnel.
On Thursday, he helped two men in civilian clothes with American accents board the ferry to the island.
The two men didn’t talk to each other or other passengers on the way to the island. They were more concerned about a trolley loaded with five black plastic containers they brought with them.
Mabaso later mentioned to the Cape Times that the men were working for the US government. “The Americans are creating their own communication line between the island and Cape Town,” he said.
Mabaso is proud to say he has met Obama before. “I was here when he visited as a senator (of Illinois in 2006) and I was invited to his first presidential inauguration,” he said.
Mabaso said he would wait for the Obamas at the stone quarry on Sunday, his expected first stop on the island.
Obama’s administration has organised for five helicopters to land on the day, while two will circle the island. Obama will travel in a Volkswagen sedan vehicle, owned by the museum, but Mabaso said they were ordered to cover the car’s emblem. The other officials would travel in mini-buses that also belonged to the museum.
“When president (Bill) Clinton came here the Americans wanted to bring their own two buses, but when they airlifted it with a helicopter from Cape Town the one chain broke and the bus fell in the ocean.”
Mabaso said the SANDF had offered to bring a fire engine and medical equipment to the island. Only 27 of the 280 museum staff would be on the island when the Obamas visited. “We are here to support, but the US handles all the security,” said Mabaso.
The Washington Post reported the US is to use its own aircraft carrier, complete with medical trauma centre, stationed offshore on the Obama visit.
Military cargo planes will bring 56 support vehicles, including 14 limousines, to the country.