Bestowing the freedom of the city on US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will further boost Cape Town’s international image, says mayor Patricia de Lille.
A proposal to bestow the honour on the Obamas goes before the council’s rules committee on Tuesday.
The official opposition in the council objected to the proposal when the news was made known and Cape Argus readers responded negatively, typically asking what the Obamas had done to deserve receiving the accolade.
Making the announcement on Monday, De Lille said: “What the Obamas display and what they have brought to this world is hope.
“In recognition of their inspirational example and proof that every obstacle can be overcome, I have proposed that the rules committee recommends to the council that the City of Cape Town awards the freedom of the city to the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, and the First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.”
The multiparty rules committee was to discuss the proposal this morning and make recommendations to the council for adoption through a vote on May 28.
De Lille said the city had already informed the Obamas and that the White House had confirmed in writing that the president and the first lady were thrilled and would accept the award.
She said bestowing the award on the Obamas would also boost the city’s international image.
Tony Ehrenreich, leader of the opposition ANC in council and Cosatu provincial secretary, slammed De Lille for making the announcement a day before the matter went before the city’s rules committee.
“If the city wants to bestow a big award like this on anyone, it has to be discussed with all parties in council before it is communicated publicly,” Ehrenreich said. “We cannot condone the way in which the announcement was made. It was a PR gimmick. I believe Capetonians also need to have a say in who is granted the freedom of the city. There was no consultation.”
Ehrenreich said he had no problem with bestowing the city’s highest award on the Obamas, but felt that the correct processes were not followed.
“I will write to unions in the States to ask them to speak to Obama about what is happening in Cape Town. Before he accepts the award, Obama must get the mayor to deal with racism and racial issues in the city and the problems facing thousands in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village and other parts of the city,” he said.
De Lille hit back, saying: “That’s a typical preposterous reaction (by Ehrenreich).”
The mayor can make a proposal for any “person of distinction” to receive the award.
Should the council approve the proposal, city officials and White House staff will arrange whether the Obamas will receive the award in Cape Town or whether a ceremony would be held in Washington.
Some Cape Argus readers have tweeted their indignation.
@dreamworkerZA tweeted: “Pathetic. There r more deserving S Africans”, while another said “Pure PR exercise”. At the other extreme, @Alettaha tweeted: “Awesome.”
Living freemen of the city include former president Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former UWC vice-chancellor Richard van der Ross.