President and First Lady to go to South Africa for Mandela memorials

McClatchy Washington BureauDecember 6, 2013 

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will go to South Africa next week to pay respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and participate in memorial events, the White House said Friday.

Details on the timing and logistics were not yet available. The Dallas Morning News reported Friday afternoon that former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, would travel with the Obamas. A Bush spokesman told the newspaper that the Bushes accepted an invite to accompany Obama and the first lady aboard Air Force One.

Bush, who earlier this year traveled to Africa with his wife, said Thursday that Mandela was “one of the great forces for freedom and equality in our time.”

Obama, who lauded Mandela in remarks Thursday night from the White House, spoke late Thursday to South African President Jacob Zuma and expressed "heartfelt condolences" on Mandela's death.

"The president conveyed how profoundly Mandela’s extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness, and humility influenced his own life, as well as those of millions around the world," the White House said. "President Obama reaffirmed that the strong and historic partnership between the United States and South Africa will continue to draw strength from Mandela’s legacy as we work together to promote equality, reconciliation and human dignity, and to build a more just and prosperous world."

Obama also signed a proclamation honoring Mandela and ordered that flags at U.S. buildings here and abroad be flown at half-staff until sunset Monday.

South Africa plans 10 days of memorial services and vigils to mark the passing of the first black president of the country. He will be laid to rest during an official state funeral and buried in his hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Dec. 15, following an official memorial service on Dec. 10 at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg.

He will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria between Dec. 11 and 13.


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