Saturday, 29 June 2013

Calling off visit, Obama acclaims ailing Mandela

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference with South African President Jacob Zuma at the Union Building on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Pretoria, South Africa. The president is in South Africa, embarking on the second leg of his three-country African journey. The visit comes at a poignant time, with former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela ailing in a Johannesburg hospital. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The possibility of a meeting between the two historic figures — the first black president of the United States and the first black president of South Africa — was so tantalizingly close. But with Nelson Mandela fighting for his life in a Pretoria hospital, President Barack Obama abandoned his hope for a visit and instead on Saturday used every stop here to talk in emotional and sweeping terms about what Mandela meant to the world, and to him.
"I expressed my hope that Madiba draws peace and comfort from the time that he is spending with loved ones," Obama said, using the clan name by which Mandela is widely known, after a meeting with some of Mandela’s children and grandchildren. "I also reaffirmed the profound impact that his legacy has had in building a free South Africa, and in inspiring people around the world - including me. That’s a legacy that we must all honor in our own lives."

In an earlier news conference with South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, he also had spoken about one of Mandela’s greatest gifts: his ability to see beyond his own considerable legend.

"Despite how revered he was," Obama said, Mandela understood that government must be "bigger than just one person, even one of the greatest people in history. What an incredible lesson that is."

Obama had built his Africa trip months ago on the hope of meeting with Mandela, whom he has called a personal inspiration. Like many South Africans, he was also eager to ensure that Mandela’s legacy will live on through younger generations. He brought his two daughters on the trip, even as many locals spent Saturday taking their own children to makeshift memorials outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela, 94, lay in critical condition and the Johannesburg home where he lived much of his time after his release from 27 years in apartheid prisons.

Herschelle Sigudla went to the hospital on a brilliantly sunny South African winter morning with his wife and two teenagers to pay their respects.

"We were in university during the struggle," said Sigudla, 43, a physiotherapist, referring to himself and his wife, Pinky, 39, a radiologist. "He inspired us to look forward to the new South Africa."

Sigudla and his family sparkled with the confidence and prosperity of the new South Africa’s affluent, well-educated black middle class. With his arms around them, he said: "We wanted to be here for our kids as well. This is history. One day they will learn it in school, and we want them to be able to say, ‘We were there.’"

Obama praised Mandela as "one of the greatest people in history" and hailed South Africa’s historic integration from white racist rule as a shining beacon for the world.

"The struggle here against apartheid for freedom, Madiba’s moral courage, this country’s historic transition to a free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me. It has been an inspiration to the world," he said.

Credits To Sltrib

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