South African English Press
June 6, 1966
KENNEDY'S HECTIC FIRST DAY
Govt. declined to meet Senator
Cape Times Correspondent
PRETORIA. – Senator Robert Kennedy said here yesterday at an impromptu news conference that the South African Government had rejected two approaches made for him to meet any of its members - one of them a personal appeal.
He had just concluded four hours of meetings on the first day of his visit to the Republic and had been closeted from 3 p.m. till 7:15 p.m. with people representing the United Party and the Progressive Party, and the editors of Afrikaans and English-language newspapers.
Senator Kennedy was asked what were the chances of his seeing members of the Government. He replied that a request had been made four weeks ago and that it was indicated there was “some reluctance” about seeing him.
“I also sent a telegram last week to ascertain if I could see anyone from the Government.
“Obviously I would have liked to see my counterpart in Justice (Senator Kennedy was Attorney-General carrying Cabinet rank in the late President Kennedy’s Government). I am also very interested in education and would have liked to meet the Minister of Education.
“I received a telegram back from the United States Department saying that the Government felt they could not see me.”
The Senator then smiled, chuckled a small girl under the chin, and said “So I will have to be stuck with you, little one.” The small crowd burst into laughter.
He added: “I like South Africans. The talks were really very helpful.”
A LATE START
The Senator made these statements at the gates of an American Embassy residence where he talked with the politicians and editors.
After a midnight welcome at Jan Smuts Airport, Senator Kennedy and his wife Ethel got off to a late start on their first day in South Africa.
They arrived late for 11 o’clock Mass at the Pretoria Roman Catholic Cathedral and slipped quietly into a back pew, unnoticed until a camera shutter clicked in the quietness of the cathedral and sent heads swinging round.
When Mass ended the Kennedy’s were besieged for the second time in nine hours by South Africans who wanted to look at, touch or talk to them, or get their autographs.
They paid their respects to Archbishop Garner, of Pretoria, then moved across to chat with a large group of nuns from the convent next to the cathedral.
“Please tell your sister-in-law (Jackie Kennedy) that we admire her very much and pray for her,” one of the nuns told him.
After a “brunch” at the home of the American Ambassador, Mr. William Rountree, Senator Kennedy and his wife set off on an unscheduled walk around the plush Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof.
A fitness fan and originator of the “50-mile hike,” Senator Kennedy set a cracking pace.
All along his route he stopped to talk to Africans, most of them local servants taking a break on the grassed sidewalks, greeting them with: “I’m Robert Kennedy from the United States and this is my wife Ethel.”
Many of them were bewildered by the sudden attention of a large party of Whites and one young African he approached with outstretched hand took fright at the battery of cameras, let out a yelp – and ran.