US President Barack Obama will pay tribute to South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, by taking his family on a tour of the island prison where the anti-apartheid leader spent 18 years.
The Obama family will visit Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell on Sunday during the Cape Town leg of a trip overshadowed by the health of South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero.
Prior to the visit of the prision, Obama said that by visiting the island he was paying tribute to a man who inspired his political activism.
"The struggle here against apartheid, for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, his country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation, has been a personal inspiration to me," Obama said, using Mandela’s clan name.
It was a privilege, he added, to be able to show his children the place where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 years as a political prisoner. “For me to be able to bring my daughters there and teach them the history of that place and this country … that’s a great privilege and a great honor,” Obama said.
Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is critically ill with a recurrent lung disease in a Pretoria hospital where he was admitted three weeks ago.
Obama and First Lady Michelle met privately late Saturday with Mandela’s relatives. A White House statement said Obama would not be meeting the critically ill anti-apartheid leader in hospital.
"Out of deference to Nelson Mandela's peace and comfort and the family's wishes, they will not be visiting the hospital," the unnamed official told the news agency AFP.
Meanwhile, Obama is set to host a landmark meeting of sub-Saharan Africa leaders next year, the White House announced on Sunday.
The White House also announced plans for Obama to unveil a 7-billion-euro ($9.1 billion) initiative to upgrade African electricity networks Sunday, in an attempt to end power outages that deter business investment.
The announcements comes as Obama dismisses talk of a tussle with China for influence on the continent.
On Saturday, Obama met with South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria. The two leaders held talks focusing on trade, boosting economic ties and regional security in Africa.
Obama's three-country tour concludes next week in Tanzania.
jlw/mkg (AFP, dpa, AP)