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Obama to meet with Mandela family on S. Africa trip

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-29

US President Barack Obama will not visit former South African President Nelson Mandela, who remains in a critical condition in hospital, on his official tour of Africa, but will instead meet privately with the Mandela family on Saturday.

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama will not be visiting former South African President Nelson Mandela in hospital, but will meet privately with members of the Mandela family on Saturday, the White House said.

Arriving in South Africa on Friday night on board Air Force One from Senegal, as part of a broader week-long Africa tour, Obama paid tribute to Mandela, who helped lead South Africa out of apartheid as the country’s first black president, but added that he was not seeking a “photo op” with the ailing statesman.

Mandela still critical but hopefully out of hospital soon, Zuma says

Former South African president Nelson Mandela’s condition remains “critical but stable” but the government hopes the 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero will be out of hospital soon, President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.

“We hope that very soon he will be out of hospital,” Zuma said at a televised press conference with visiting U.S. President Barack Obama. Mandela has been in hospital for three weeks for treatment for a recurring lung infection.


A Nobel Peace Prize laureate like Obama, Mandela is admired around the world as a symbol of resistance against injustice and of racial reconciliation. The 94-year-old has been hospitalised at a heart clinic in the capital Pretoria with a lung infection for nearly three weeks – his fourth spell in hospital in six months.

Although Mandela is still in critical condition, his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela told reporters in the Johannesburg township of Soweto on Friday that the former president’s health appeared to have improved over the past few days.

“I’m not a doctor but I can say that from what he was a few days ago there is great improvement,” she said.

The previous day, South African President Jacob Zuma also said that Mandela’s health had taken a turn for the better, explaining that while his condition remained serious, it was “stable”.

Obama not welcomed by all

Obama’s visit to South Africa, however, was not welcomed by all. Nearly 1,000 trade unionists, Muslim activists and South African Communist Party members marched through the capital to the US Embassy where they burned an American flag, calling Obama’s foreign policy “arrogant and oppressive”.

Anti-Obama protesters take to the streets in Pretoria

Muslim activists held prayers in a car park outside the embassy. Leader Imam Sayeed Mohammed told the group, “We hope that Mandela feels better and that Obama can learn from him.”

South African critics of Obama have focused in particular on his support for US drone strikes overseas, which they say have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, and his failure to fulfill a promise to shut down the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Protesters said the first African-American president should not try to link himself to the anti-apartheid figure.

“Mandela valued human life ... Mandela would condemn drone attacks and civilian deaths, Mandela cannot be his hero, he cannot be on that list,” said Yousha Tayob.

‘Two great men’

A few blocks away at the Pretoria heart hospital, well-wishers paying tribute to Mandela had words of praise for Obama, who met Mandela in 2005 when he was still a US senator.

Nigerian painter Sanusi Olatunji, 31, had brought portraits of both Mandela and Obama to the wall of the hospital, where flowers, tribute notes and gifts for Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately known, have been piling up.

“These are the two great men of my lifetime,” he said.

“To me, Mandela is a prophet who brought peace and opportunity. He made it possible for a black man like me to live in a country that was only for whites.”

During his weekend trip to Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, Obama is scheduled to visit Robben Island, the former penal colony where Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he spent in apartheid prisons.

First substantial trip to Africa

Obama, who has been in office since 2009, is making his first substantial visit to Africa following a short trip to Ghana at the beginning of his first term.

South Africans held prayer vigils outside the Pretoria hospital and at Mandela’s former Soweto home Thursday night.

But as his health has deteriorated this year, there is a growing realisation among South Africa’s 53 million people that the man who forged their multi-racial “Rainbow Nation” from the ashes of apartheid may be nearing his end.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-06-28


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