President Obama will meet with the family of former South African President Nelson Mandela later Saturday but not with the hospitalized civil rights icon himself, the White House announced.
“Later today, the president and first lady will meet privately with members of the Mandela family to offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time,” a White House official said. “Out of deference to Nelson Mandela’s peace and comfort and the family’s wishes, they will not be visiting the hospital.”
Mandela has been in the hospital for three weeks, fighting a lung infection. He remains in stable but critical condition.
At the start of a press conference in Pretoria with South African President Jacob Zuma, Obama paid tribute to the ailing Mandela.
“Our thoughts and those of the American people are with Nelson Mandela, his family and all South Africans,” Obama said, calling Mandela’s “moral courage” a “personal inspiration.”
Obama’s whirlwind trip through Africa this week has been cast in the shadow of Mandela, the icon of the anti-apartheid movement and a personal hero of the president’s. The two leaders, both the first black presidents of their respective countries, have not met face to face aside from a brief get-together in Washington.
“I don’t need a photo-op and 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,” Obama told reporters, ahead of landing in South Africa on Friday. “I think the main message we’ll want to deliver, if not directly to him, to his family, is simply our profound gratitude for his leadership all these years and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, his family, and his country.”