Michelle Obama told young African leaders, including members of South Africa's post-apartheid generation, that more causes are worth fighting for and more history remains to be made. She urged them Wednesday to be the ones who end hunger, wipe out HIV/AIDS and protect women's rights.
In an emotionally stirring speech at a church that became a popular refuge during the fight against government-imposed segregation in South Africa, the first lady drew on the struggle for racial equality in the United States and in this country as she sought to inspire young people to become the next generation of problem-solvers.
"I know that as your generation looks back on that struggle and on the many liberation movements of the past century, you may think that all the great moral struggles have already been won," Mrs. Obama said in a keynote address to a U.S.-sponsored leadership conference for more than 70 young African women. "But while today's challenges might not always inspire the lofty rhetoric and high drama of struggles past, the injustices at hand are no less glaring. The human suffering is no less acute.
"So make no mistake about it: There are still so many causes worth sacrificing for. There is still so much history yet to be made," she said.
Sixty percent of Africa's population is under age 25, and two-thirds of South Africans are younger than 30, Mrs. Obama said.
She received an effusive introduction from Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who called Mrs. Obama the "queen of our world."
That welcome, which included music from a choir whose members wore colorful Zulu hats, was so rousing that Mrs. Obama was visibly moved by the time she got to the microphone. She shook her head as if in disbelief, crossed her arms over her chest and thanked the audience of 2,000 for that "almost overwhelming" introduction. A large television screen aired the speech to dozens more gathered in a nearby park.
Mrs. Obama delivered her 30-minute address at the Regina Mundi Church in the black township of Soweto. The church became more than a religious sanctuary 35 years ago -- in June 1976 -- when police fired upon thousands of students who were peacefully protesting the government's decision to require them to begin studying in Afrikaans, the language of the country's Dutch settlers.
Mrs. Obama is halfway through a weeklong good-will mission to South Africa and Botswana, and is promoting youth leadership, education, health and wellness, as well as relations with Africa.
The first lady is on her second international trip without the president, but for company she brought along her two daughters, Malia, 12, and Sasha, 10; and her mother, Marian Robinson; as well as two children of her brother, Craig: niece Leslie Robinson, 15; and nephew Avery Robinson, 19.