Air Force One departed through the steel Washington, DC sky en route to Johannesburg, South Africa this morning for the Tuesday funeral service of Nelson Mandela.
Along with President Obama and the First Lady, on board were former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and the Attorney General, Eric Holder. A small U.S. Congressional delegation is expected to arrive separately. DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton will be among them.
President Obama will speak at the funeral after Mr. Mandela’s family members. Other officials expected to speak on the program are United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Cuban President Raul Castro. President Obama joins more than 50 world leaders who will come together to pay their final respects to Mandela, an international symbol of peace and freedom.
The members of the press gaggle aboard the flight inquired as to if Obama will meet with the Mandela family or other leaders, but whether he will has not been confirmed.
Said National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, "We’ve been in touch with the Mandela family and are seeking to see if there is time for them to meet. Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain because things are so fluid on the ground. But we would certainly like the opportunity for the President to pay his respects to Graça Machel and the broader Mandela family. Beyond that, we don’t expect any bilateral meetings of any sort. I presume that he will certainly see President Zuma, have a chance to speak to him, but not in any kind of formal way."
Obama spoke to Graca Machel, Mandela's widow on Friday, December 6, a day after the 95-year-old South African hero died from a chronic lung infection for which he was hospitalized for months.
“The president thanked Mrs. Machel for the profound influence that Nelson Mandela has had on him, and underscored the power of President Mandela’s example for the people of South Africa and the entire world,” the White House shared in a statement.
Obama shares with Mandela the historic distinction of being the first Black man to lead a nation that bears the scars from past socio- political oppression of Blacks. Mandela led South Africa, a nation marred by a past history of slavery and apartheid. Obama leads a nation wounded by a past history slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.
President Obama said in his initial condolences that Mandela inspired him as a student activist.
The funeral is planned to last four hours and will be held in the 95,000 seat First National Bank Stadium. Musicians and entertainers from around the world are also expected to attend including Oprah, Bono and The Spice Girls.
Vice President Biden will remain stateside to honor for a public memorial honoring Mandela at the National Cathedral on Wednesday, December 11 at 10:00 a.m..