After visiting the jail cell on South Africa’s Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison during the long struggle against apartheid, President Obama wrote on Sunday about the bravery of Mandela and others who demanded their rights.
In a message he added to the island’s visitors book, the president said:
“On behalf of our family we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield. The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”
Bloomberg News’ Margaret Talev has posted a photo of Obama’s message here. The president and first lady Michelle Obama signed it.
Mandela, who turns 95 on July 18, has been hospitalized in Pretoria since June 8 as doctors treat him for a lung infection. He remains in critical, but stable, condition.
Mandela, NPR’s Jason Beaubien reminds us, was born in a country that viewed him as a second-class citizen. But from his childhood as a herd boy, Mandela went on to lead the African National Congress’ struggle against the racially oppressive, apartheid regime of South Africa. For his efforts, he spent 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner, finally being released in 1990.
In 1993, Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk — the nation’s last white leader. They were recognized for “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
Then, in 1994, Mandela was elected president in South Africa’s first democratic elections. He pledged to serve just one term and left office in 1999.
Obama had visited the prison once before; in 2006, when he was a U.S. senator.
Also Sunday, as NPR’s Ari Shapiro reported on Weekend Edition, Obama is outlining a “Power Africa” program that aims to “double access to electricity on the continent.” It’s a $7 billion initiative, CNN reports.