Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi said her father “opened his eyes” and he smiled when she told him that President Obama was coming to South Africa, but the Mandela family gathered today for an urgent meeting to discuss “delicate matters” concerning the ailing 94-year-old leader.
Zindzi Mandela said earlier today that she said to her father: “Obama is coming.”
“He opened his eyes and gave me a smile,” she said.
The American president and his wife Michelle are due to arrive in South Africa on Friday, after starting his Africa trip on Wednesday in Senegal. Though many are speculating that Obama might visit Mandela, who is still in critical condition at a Pretoria hospital, a meeting between them is not on Obama’s announced itinerary.
Obama is scheduled to take part in bilateral talks, preside over a Young African Leaders initiative meeting and visit Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned. After arriving in Johannesburg on Friday, the president is to visit Soweto on Saturday, tour various sites in Cape Town, and deliver an address at the University of Cape Town.
The tour’s focus will be expanding economic growth, investment and trade between sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S.
“President Obama would have loved to see Madiba,” International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters in Pretoria. “In my country, at my age and your age, when people are ill-disposed, we try to give them space to recover.”
She said life could not stop because Mandela is ailing.
“He would be very disappointed if he hears that life has stopped in South Africa [because he is ill],” she said.
Relatives and chief members of Mandela’s clan—including his grandson Mandla Mandela and family members Thanduxolo Mandela, Ndaba Mandela, and Ndileka Mandela—gathered for a meeting at his rural home in Qunu, Eastern Cape province, on Tuesday morning.
Napilisi Mandela, an elder in the family, told reporters the meeting was being called “to discuss delicate matters.”
Meanwhile, South African President Jacob Zuma urged South Africans to show their appreciation for Mandela, who is in critical condition in a hospital, by marking his 95th birthday next month with acts of goodness that honor the legacy of the anti-apartheid leader.
“We must support him and support his family,” Zuma said in a statement. “We must demonstrate our love and appreciation for his leadership during the struggle for liberation and in our first few years of freedom and democracy by living out his legacy and promoting unity, non-racialism, non-sexism and prosperity in our country.”
In recent years, Mandela’s July 18th birthday has been recognized as International Mandela Day, when people across the planet are asked to spend 67 minutes working on behalf of humanity. Mandela spent 67 years as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner, a peacemaker and a democratically elected president.