World

With Mandela's Health As Backdrop, Obama Arrives In S. Africa

NPR | June 28, 2013 1:10 p.m.

Contributed By:

Eyder Peralta

Children release 95 balloons to mark Nelson Mandela's upcoming birthday outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated for a recurring lung infection in Pretoria, South Africa.

Children release 95 balloons to mark Nelson Mandela's upcoming birthday outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated for a recurring lung infection in Pretoria, South Africa.

Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla

President Obama is headed to South Africa today on the second leg of a one-week trip to the African continent.

As we’ve told you, Obama planned the trip to talk about democracy and security, but this leg has taken a new meaning, because everyone’s attention is on the ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro, who’s traveling with the president, filed this report for our Newscast unit:

“This trip was planned long before Mandela’s health took a turn for the worse. Now one question is whether the full South Africa itinerary will go forward as scheduled.

“The White House says all of the events are still on track. But in Dakar, President Obama acknowledged that the world’s focus is on Mandela.

“‘If and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages,’ Obama said Thursday.

“Obama added that the world’s thoughts and prayers are with the people of South Africa and the Mandela family.”

This morning, The New York Times focuses on the relationship between Obama and Mandela. They’ve only met once in person, during an impromptu meeting in Washington, D.C. when Obama was a senator.

While Obama rejects direct comparisons to Mandela, the Times notes there are worthy symmetries: The “two men from different generations who made history as the first black presidents of nations with deep racial divides. Both embraced a cool pragmatism in their attempt to be post-racial leaders, and both have inspired as well as disappointed many supporters.”

During that press conference on Thursday, Obama recalled that his first act of political activism came in college, inspired by the anti-apartheid movement led by Mandela.

The Times reports:

“In the foreword that Mr. Obama wrote to Mr. Mandela’s 2010 book, “Conversations With Myself,” he describes the early impact that Mr. Mandela’s struggle had on his life and his entry into politics.

“‘His sacrifice was so great that it called upon people everywhere to do what they could on behalf of human progress,’ Mr. Obama wrote. ‘In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call.’”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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