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S. Africa says Obama won't visit Mandela in hospital

6:56 PM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
A note for Mandela was posted outside the hospital. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
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President Obama will not visit critically ill Nelson Mandela when he travels to South Africa on Friday, officials said Tuesday.

The 94-year-old former president and anti-apartheid leader, who is a personal hero to Obama, was re-admitted to a Pretoria hospital three weeks ago for a recurring lung infection. Sunday, his condition was downgraded from serious but stable to critical.

"President Obama would have loved to see Madiba," South Africa International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters, referring to Mandela by his tribal name. "In my country, at my age and your age, when people are ill-disposed, we try to give them space to recover."

President Jacob Zuma's office said in a statementTuesday that Mandela's condition had not changed and that "doctors continue to do their best to ensure his recovery, well-being and comfort."

When told of Obama's impending trip, "he opened his eyes and gave me a smile," his daughter Zindzi told NBC News after a meeting of family members and tribal leaders Tuesday at Mandela's rural home in Qunu, near Cape Town.

The "urgent" meeting was called "to discuss delicate matters," the South Africa Press Association reported. That is widely thought to refer to preparations for Mandela's death.

Family would have to decide whether Mandela is well enough to meet Obama. No meeting has been scheduled.

A woman places flowers at the base of the wall decorated with messages of support for former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital on June 25 in Pretoria, South Africa. Mandela, 94, has been hospitalized since June 8 for what the government says is a recurring lung infection. Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images Fullscreen

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said Friday during a conference call with reporters that "we ... are going to be very deferential to the Mandela family in terms of any interaction that the president may have with the Mandela family or with Nelson Mandela.

"Ultimately, we want whatever is in the best interest of his health and the peace of mind of the Mandela family. And so we'll be driven by their own determinations in that regard. We'll be in touch with them. The president wants to support them in any way. He's supporting them with his thoughts and prayers as it is," Rhodes said.

Obama arrives in Johannesburg on Friday and will visit Soweto on Saturday. He will also visit Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for nearly 30 years, and sites in Cape Town. He is to deliver an address at the University of Cape Town that will pay tribute to Mandela.

Besides South Africa, the president and Michelle Obama will visit Senegal and Tanzania. It will be the president's second trip to sub-Saharan Africa.

The Obamas arrive in Senegal on Wednesday, and will begin their visit with a trip to Goree Island, a former slave port off Dakar, the capital. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also visited the small, rocky island when they were in office.

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