The White House announced that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be leaving for Johannesburg, South Africa today on Air Force One. Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush will join the Obama’s on the flight to attend a memorial service on Tuesday for Nelson Mandela, who died this past Thursday, Dec. 5, at age 95.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will also be attending the service on Tuesday, but each will travel separately to the service. Former President George H.W. Bush will not be attending due to his health.
President Obama and the former President’s will join dozens of other dignitaries and tens of thousands of mourners at the memorial service at a Johannesburg stadium.
On the day of Mandela’s passing President Obama delivered a short statement saying that Nelson Mandela “no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.”
"We've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with," Obama said. "He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages ... His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to."
"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," Obama continued, citing his own protests against apartheid as one of his first political actions. "I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example set by Nelson Mandela."
Obama continued, "We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.".
Obama and Mandela met in person only once, a hastily arranged 2005 meeting in a Washington hotel room when Obama was a U.S. senator. A photo of the meeting hangs in Obama's personal office at the White House, showing a smiling Mandela sitting on a chair, his legs outstretched, as the young senator reaches down to shake his hand. A copy of the photo also hangs in Mandela's office in Johannesburg.
The two men did speak occasionally by telephone, including after the 2008 election, when Mandela called Obama to congratulate him on his victory. The U.S. president called Mandela in 2010 after the South African leader's young granddaughter was killed in a car accident. Obama also wrote the introduction to Mandela's memoir, "Conversations with Myself."
Nelson Mandela will be buried Dec. 15, following a state funeral in his hometown of Qunu.
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