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Michelle Obama meets with Nelson Mandela as she begins Africa tour [Updated]

June 21, 2011|By Katherine Skiba, Washington Bureau
(Debbie Yazbek, Nelson Mandela…)

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — First Lady Michelle Obama met Tuesday afternoon with Nelson Mandela, this nation's first black president, a revered figure who has largely disappeared from public view for many months.

It was a historic meeting for Mandela, 92, an iconic symbol of the country's fight against apartheid, and Obama, 47, the first black wife of a U.S. president.

The first lady arrived Monday for a weeklong official visit to Africa. She and Mandela had not met before.

In 2005, Mandela met then-Sen. Barack Obama in Washington, and a photo from that visit is kept in Mandela's office, aides to the first lady said.

[For the record, 6:03 a.m., June 21: An earlier version of this post stated that then-Sen. Barack Obama met Nelson Mandela in 2006 in South Africa. The meeting was in 2005 in Washington.]

Tuesday's face-to-face meeting with the U.S. first lady took place at Mandela's home, near his foundation, in Johannesburg's well-manicured Houghton neighborhood.
 
Obama was accompanied in the meeting by her mother, Marian Robinson, and daughters Malia, 12 and Sasha, 10.

Mandela, who was joined by his wife at Tuesday's meeting, was hospitalized in January with an acute lung infection. His wife, Graca Machel, is the former first lady of Mozambique.

Held prisoner for 27 years for his fight against apartheid, Mandela was president of South Africa from 1994 through 1999. He will be 93 on July 18. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, visited last July by former President Clinton in honor of Mandela's birthday, aims to use the "history, values, vision and the respect harnessed by Mr. Mandela to provide a platform for public discourse on important social issues," according to background information from the White House.

Obama kicked off her first full day of activities in South Africa by traveling from her hotel in Johannesburg to Pretoria.

A planned meeting with Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, wife of President Jacob Zuma, was to start her official schedule but was put off until later in the day. Mrs. Zuma is one of his three wives.

Instead, Obama began her appearances by meeting with South African leaders and U.S. Embassy employees at the stately Dutch Cape-styled residence of U.S. Ambassador Donald Gips. Guests were given pastries and postcard-sized color photos of President Obama as string musicians performed.

She returned to Johannesburg to meet about 11:30 a.m. with Mrs. Zuma at the stark, expansive white residence that rises amid lush grounds, a terraced garden and cypress and palm trees.

Their meeting lasted just under half an hour, and the two women reportedly talked about Mrs. Obama's trip and schedule. She is scheduled to move on to Botswana on Friday.

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