JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrapped up a two-day official visit to South Africa Friday with multimillion dollar investment deals and an emotional trip to Robben island and its most famous former inmate, Nelson Mandela.
But it was the French first lady who stole the show, attracting headlines like "Carla Sarkozy, so cozy in SA."
Carla Bruni, supermodel turned singer turned presidential spouse, reduced normally dour government ministers to the state of giggling schoolboys as they lined up to shake hands at the guard of honor on Thursday.
"I would like to thank a beautiful lady, Madame Carla Sarkozy, for giving us the opportunity to meet her. And Carla, I am very glad to inform you do not have to wait for the President's next visit to South Africa to come back," South African President Thabo Mbeki said in a banquet toast Thursday night.
Bruni declared that her first official foreign trip would definitely not be her last, and that she hoped to devote herself to humanitarian causes.
"I really enjoyed this visit. It was a unique and very moving experience to meet Mr. Mandela and also to visit South Africa," she said after 40-minute talks with the 89-year-old anti-apartheid icon at his Johannesburg residence.
On Friday, the presidential pair visited Robben Island, a wind-swept island near Cape Town where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison under apartheid.
Decades of apartheid ended with multiracial elections in 1994, ushering in democracy, economic growth and peace. But poverty remains widespread.
French engineering company Alstom on Friday signed a deal worth about $2 billion to equip a new coal power station for South Africa, as Sarkozy vowed to help South Africa overcome its acute electricity shortage.
A team of French engineers will arrive next week to advise the government and state utility Eskom on possible solutions to the electricity shortage, which has seriously disrupted the vital mining sector, he said.
French nuclear reactor constructor Areva has bid against Westinghouse of the United States for the contract to build a second nuclear reactor in South Africa.
Sarkozy, who took office last May, outlined in a speech to the South African parliament Thursday his hopes for a new and more open era in relations between France — which is still often regarded with suspicion for propping up corrupt governments in its former colonies — and Africa.