29 Jun 2013

Obama to meet with Mandela family

9:58 pm on 29 June 2013

The White House says United States president Barack Obama and his wife are to meet privately with the family of the ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Mr Obama is in South Africa on a visit that's been overshadowed by worries about the health of Mr Mandela.

Reuters reports that the White House added in a statement: "Out of deference to Nelson Mandela's peace and comfort and the family's wishes, they will not be visiting the hospital."

The 94-year-old has been in hospital for three weeks and remains in a critical condition.

Mr Obama has previously said he does not want a photo opportunity with Mr Mandela, or to get in the way of his family.

Mr Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said the former leader had made a great improvement in recent days but was still unwell.

She said she felt it would not be right for the US president to visit Mr Mandela while he was in a critical condition.

Mr Obama is expected to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu and give a major speech at the University of Cape Town. He is also expected to visit Robben Island, where Mr Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.

Mr Obama met Mr Mandela in 2005 when he was still a US senator. Both men became the first black presidents of their nations and have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Security is tight in the streets near Mediclinic Heart Hospital in the capital, Pretoria, where the 94-year old is being treated for a lung infection, the BBC reports.

Ministers, politicians, Mr Mandela's physician and family members were among those visiting the ex-leader on Friday, his 21st day in hospital, and many well-wishers are gathered outside.