Michelle Obama meets Nelson Mandela in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG Tue Jun 21, 2011 3:14pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. first lady Michelle Obama (L) walks with Nelson Mandela's wife Graca Machel as she visits the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg June 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Dharapak/Pool

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Michelle Obama meets Mandela

Tue, Jun 21 2011

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to former South African President Nelson Mandela Tuesday, kicking off a trip to Africa laden with symbolism by meeting the continent's most revered leader.

Obama, accompanied by her mother and two daughters, visited the 92-year-old anti-apartheid icon at his home in Johannesburg's Houghton suburb.

Pictures released by the Nelson Mandela Foundation showed a smiling Mandela sitting upright on a couch next to the first lady and her children. He was dressed in a brightly colored shirt -- known in South Africa as a "Madiba shirt" after his clan name.

The meeting, which included Obama's niece and nephew and other Mandela family members, lasted about 20 minutes.

Mandela has not been seen in public since he was hospitalized at the start of the year, suffering from a respiratory disease.

He visited his home village in May, the first time since he spent several days in hospital in January. Since then he has received medical care at his Houghton home. The meeting with the first lady was not confirmed until roughly an hour before it happened Tuesday.

Mandela met President Barack Obama in Washington in 2005 when Obama was a senator. A picture of the two men -- their countries' first black presidents -- is kept in Mandela's office, according to a White House aide.

Mandela retired from public life in June 2004 before his 86th birthday. Since then he has rarely appeared in public and when he did, he appeared increasingly frail.


Before their meeting Mrs. Obama visited the office of Mandela's charitable foundation, viewing a display of archival items including Mandela's prison desk calendars and notebooks.

Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, showed the Obama family around the exhibits, affectionately putting her arms around the two girls and checking on the first lady's mother with a call of: "Are you there, ma?"

The family later visited the Apartheid Museum, which documents the state-sanctioned system of racial discrimination that Mandela helped topple.

The first lady arrived in South Africa late Monday for her second official solo journey abroad with a goal of promoting education, health, and democracy.

Earlier Tuesday she met with Nompumelelo Zuma, one of President Jacob Zuma's wives, in the capital Pretoria.

Later she visited a community center, where she and her daughters delivered a lively reading of children's book "The Cat in the Hat" to a group of youngsters, who serenaded them.

She leaves for Botswana later in the week.

(Writing by Marius Bosch and Jeff Mason)