News / Africa

Obama Plays Down Expectations of Mandela Visit

This two-picture combination of file photos shows Nelson Mandela on Aug. 8, 2012 (l) and President Barack Obama on May 31, 2013.
This two-picture combination of file photos shows Nelson Mandela on Aug. 8, 2012 (l) and President Barack Obama on May 31, 2013.
Anita Powell
U.S. President Barack Obama says he is uncertain whether he’ll meet ailing South African icon Nelson Mandela after he arrives in the country for a much-anticipated visit Friday.

Speaking to reporters aboard the presidential plane Air Force One on Friday,Obama played down expectations of a visit with the 94-year-old Mandela.  

"I don't need a photo op," said the president.  "The last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive, at a time when the family is concerned with Nelson Mandela's condition."

Mandela has spent several days in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, prompting an outpouring of support - and overshadowing Obama’s visit.  He is doing better but remains critical, said his ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, on Friday.

The presidency and the family have been publicly reluctant to give any specific details about his medical status.  Mandela has been in critical condition since Sunday.

“I am not here to answer any medical questions. I am not a doctor, but I can say from what he was a few days ago there is great improvement, but clinically he is still unwell," said Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Khusela Sangoni-Khawe, a spokeswoman for South Africa’s ruling party, said top party officials visited the hospital on Friday and found the same, though they only spoke to the family and doctors, as the doctors advised that Mandela’s condition was too dire for them to be able to see him in person.

Like many South Africans, she referred to the 94-year-old icon by his clan name, Madiba.

“And we received reports that indeed Comrade Mandela remains in a critical but stable condition.  We are calling on all South Africans to continue to pray for Madiba during this time. The ANC is filling out prayer meetings throughout the country, where we are going to be keeping President Mandela, his family and medical team in our thoughts," said Sangoni-Khawe.

Mandela’s health is overshadowing the visit of another Nobel Peace Laureate who was also elected his nation’s first black president: U.S. President Barack Obama.

A bevy of events are planned: several bilateral meetings, speeches, a state dinner, and a visit to Robben Island where Mandela spent decades in prison.  There are also protests against the visit - nearly 1,000 trade unionists, Muslim activists and members of South Africa's Communist party marched to the U.S. embassy in Pretoria Friday, where they denounced U.S. foreign policy.

But missing from Obama’s official agenda is a visit to Mandela himself.

The two men met in person once, in the United States, when Obama was a U.S. Senator. Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said any visit this weekend would be decided by Mandela’s family.

“Essentially, it is a matter that we do not regulate the visits to Madiba. Those are matters that are handled by the family. But I did see statements from the United States that they would not be pressing for that, they would be guided by the family and the health interests of Madiba. So that’s where the matter stands, and it depends, really, on circumstances," said Maharaj.

Mandela’s daughter told the state broadcaster on Thursday that “anything is imminent” with regard to her father’s health.  He was admitted to the Pretoria hospital on June 8 for a lung infection.  On Sunday, he fell into critical condition, where he remains.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama heads a soccer ball at Ubungo Power Plant in Dar es Salaam, July 2, 2013. The ball called a "soccket ball" has internal electronics that allows it to generate and store electricity that can power small devices.
  • U.S. First lady Michelle Obama walks with Salma Kikwete, wife of Tanzania's president, during a departure ceremony in Dar es Salaam, July 2, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush (left) attend a memorial for the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam, July 2, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, and Tanzanian first lady Salma Kikwete wave as they arrive at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013.
  • President Barack Obama and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete walk in front of Michelle Obama and Salma Kikwete as they arrive at the State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013.
  • Young girls and women wear the khanga, a traditional wrap, with the image of U.S. President Barack Obama as they line up to greet him at the State House, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, July 1, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama writes in a guest book as he tours Robben Island with first lady Michelle Obama, near Cape Town, June 30, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama departs the Robben Island prison cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment near Cape Town, June 30, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama listens to Desmond Tutu as he visits his HIV Foundation Youth Center and takes part in a health event in Cape Town, June 30, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama greets participants at a town hall-style meeting with young African leaders at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, June 29, 2013.
  • Members of the White House traveling staff walk to a group of helicopters about to transport U.S. President Barack Obama from a soccer field in Johannesburg, June 29, 2013.
  • Protesters argue with police outside the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, June 29, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama look out of a doorway that slaves departed from on Goree Island, Senegal, June 27, 2013.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama visits a food security expo in Dakar, Senegal, June 28, 2013.
  • People line the motorcade route of U.S. President Barack Obama on his way to meet with Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar, June 27, 2013.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Shadow from: USA
June 28, 2013 1:26 PM
After all 13 years of breaking down freedom....One of the world's most cherished international civil rights supporters....All I can see is Obama trying to avoid this man in such shame and dishonor he would dig a hole next to the first dog house.

by: Gary from: Washington State
June 28, 2013 12:59 PM
The Mandela family needs to be left to the peace and quiet time they have left. Mr. Mandela has given enough to the world. The President needs not to make this an 'event' showing how humble he (Obama) can be....

by: john s. from: usa
June 28, 2013 11:23 AM
What was the point of this trip? Obviously a vacation for the family at taxpayers expense. Obama and his entourage in another luxury package...... Meanwhile the country is enmeshed in scandals and we are a flop when it comes to international diplomacy. So much for the new era of diplomacy.....

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs