CENTURION, South Africa -- President Obama arrived Friday in South Africa, where the nation holds an anxious vigil for Nelson Mandela, who remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital.
While flying on Air Force One, the president told reporters that he expected to get an update on Mandela’s condition and would consult with the former South African president’s family about visiting the hospital.
“I don’t need a photo op, and the last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive,” he said, noting that he and his family have already met Mandela. “Right now, our main concern is with his well-being, his comfort, and with the family’s well-being and comfort.”
The president, traveling with his family, landed at Waterkloof Air Base between Pretoria and Johannesburg, where the president will meet with embassy personnel at a Friday evening event.
The president counts the 94-year-old leader of the fight against apartheid in South Africa as a hero and has said that his involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in college gave him his first taste of politics.
In South Africa, Obama is scheduled to meet with President Jacob Zuma and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He will hold a town hall gathering with young people in Soweto and deliver a speech in Cape Town.
But much of his trip will likely reflect that South Africa is poised to mourn the passing of its national hero. On Sunday, Obama plans to visit Robben Island, where Mandela was held in a tiny cell for most of his 27 years in prison under the country’s former white-minority rulers.
“I think the main message we’ll want to deliver, if not directly to him but 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, and his family, and his country,” the president said on his plane. “I think in that sense, the sentiment of Americans is universally shared around the world.”
Obama flew to Johannesburg from Senegal, where he promoted U.S. efforts to reduce malnutrition and food shortages on Friday. He is on the third day of an Africa tour that will also take him to Tanzania.