QUNU, South Africa (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the “beautiful” smile of her friend and former South African President Nelson Mandela when they met at his country home on Monday during her multi-nation trade and security tour through Africa.
Mandela, in failing health, has only seen a few visitors outside his family in recent years. During his 94th birthday celebration last month, the anti-apartheid leader met Hillary’s husband and former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton was greeted by Mandela’s wife Graca Machel at the salmon-coloured house set amid rolling hills.
Inside, Mandela, wearing a grey cardigan and sitting in a wingback chair with his legs covered by a throw, smiled for a picture, but he did not speak in the presence of reporters.
“That’s a beautiful smile!” Clinton said.
“Madiba’s smile is a trademark,” Machel said, referring to him by his clan name.
Mandela’s single term as president from 1994 to 1999 came during the Clinton presidency, with Mandela and the Clintons meeting often during the period.
Hillary Clinton, then first lady, was one of the leaders of the U.S. delegation for Mandela’s inauguration as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, calling it a “milestone of the 20th century”.
“I was on the verge of tears the whole time,” she said just after the event in 1994.
A few months later, the Clintons welcomed Mandela with a state dinner at the White House.
In 1995, Mandela showed Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea his tiny prison cell on Robben Island where he spent most of his 27 years in jail for trying to bring down the white-minority apartheid regime.
Mandela’s last major public appearance was at the 2010 World Cup soccer final in Johannesburg. He has spent almost all his time since then at his homes in Johannesburg and in the Eastern Cape town of Qunu, near where he was born.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Pascal Fletcher