President Obama will be one of the world leaders speaking at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the White House announced on Monday.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One to South Africa that Obama would speak for 10 to 15 minutes during the service and “reflect on what Nelson Mandela meant to the people of South Africa, to him personally as well.”
The anti-apartheid leader and first black president of South Africa died Thursday at the age of 95. Mandela, one of the world’s most respected leaders, spent 27 years in prison during the struggle to end white minority rule in South Africa.
“You’ve heard him speak in the past about Nelson Mandela and the impact he had on the president,” said Rhodes. “He obviously is cemented in our memory as an icon, but he was an extraordinary political leader, an extraordinary leader of a movement to bring about change.
“I think one of the points the president will make is that it took decades of persistence and talent and a wide range of very unique skills to make Nelson Mandela the figure that he was and make him capable of bringing about that change,” Rhodes added.
Obama is traveling with former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Air Force One. Former President Clinton is traveling separately to the event.
The leaders will attend a memorial service on Tuesday in Johannesburg.
Mandela will receive a state funeral in his hometown of Qunu on Dec. 15. Rhodes said Obama would send representatives to the funeral on Saturday.
Vice President Joe Biden is slated to speak at a memorial service for Mandela in Washington on Wednesday at the National Cathedral.
Earlier Monday, Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, visited the South African embassy to sign a condolence book.
Speaking to reporters outside the embassy in front of a statue of Mandela, Biden called the departed leader “the most remarkable man I met in my whole career.”
Rhodes said the president would make an effort to meet with Mandela’s family.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain because things are so fluid on the ground. But we would certainly like the opportunity for the president to pay his respects to [Mandela’s wife] Graça Machel and the broader Mandela family,” he said.
A number of world leaders are attending the events. Rhodes said the White House did not expect Obama to hold meetings with any of his counterparts, but hopes to meet South African President Jacob Zuma.