Michelle and daughters jet in

21 June 2011 - 03:21 By ANDILE NDLOVU

Michelle Obama and her daughters Malia Ann, 13, and Sasha, 10, clearly hadn't expected the chilly weather that greeted them as they arrived at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria last night.

The wife of US President Barack Obama led a big touring party that included her mother, Marian Robinson, and two nieces and a nephew who followed closely behind as cameras flashed incessantly at the now iconic US First Lady.

Obama is on a six-day visit to the region and it is expected that she will focus on young women leaders and the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle during her trip.

Dressed in smart black pants and a close-fitting black and red patterned top, Obama quickly shook hands with officials, including Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

Malia Ann clearly has a sharp fashion sense too - she stepped off the plane a little after 9pm in skinny jeans, pumps and a lovely blazer, before she and Sasha were adorned in throws emblazoned with the South African flag to help stave off the cold.

When the formalities were over, Obama stepped into her car, separate from the rest of the family, who travelled in a different direction.

Were it not for the police and metro police vehicles that were part of a long motorcade rushing to the air base, this could have easily been somewhere in Washington DC. Aside from their distinct accents (and charmingly hopeless pronunciation of some local journalists' names), the waiting party of US Embassy and White House staff members ran the press arrivals and registrations like it's done in Hollywood - with meticulous attention to detail. However, security was not as stringent as at the US Embassy in Pretoria.

Earlier, journalistswere told not to bother arriving at the base after 7.30pm as there would be "lockdown" and that no one would be let in later than that. By 8pm, everyone was seated in the waiting lounge and told to "relax until 9pm", when staff would then escort the journalists towards the runway. At 9.15pm the plane arrived, sending officials scurrying.

The US State Department described the visit as a mix of policy and personal pilgrimage.

"She's coming on this trip to talk about women's development and youth development, and South Africa's a leader in that, not only on the continent but globally," said Elizabeth Trudeau, spokesman for the US embassy in Pretoria. "A visit to South Africa is important for them as a family. She'll be visiting many struggle-era landmarks."

Obama is scheduled to meet President Jacob Zuma's wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma in Pretoria today, before she heads for Johannesburg to visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation, where she will be shown around by Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela.

Later in the afternoon, Obama will visit a daycare centre in Johannesburg, and tour the Apartheid Museum, which chronicles the history of the struggle against white-minority rule.

Obama has a packed schedule that includes a safari in Botswana, a visit to retired archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and a trip to the memorial for Hector Pieterson in Soweto.

She will make the keynote speech at a conference of the Young African Women Leaders' Forum from across the continent. - Additional reporting by Sapa-AFP

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