Obama’s African tour overshadowed as Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition, as family is caught up in heated row

Daughter says that legendary leader smiled and opened his eyes when she told him of US President's visit

Barack Obama arrives in Africa for a tour which threatens to be overshadowed by the precarious health of Nelson Mandela, who is still in a critical condition in a South African hospital.

Mr Mandela’s daughter Zindzi said that her father smiled and opened his eyes when she told him of Mr Obama’s visit, but should Mr Mandela’s condition worsen – as South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has warned it might – the US delegation would find itself a sideshow in a global outpouring of grief. 

The US President’s return to the continent is seen by many observers as overdue. The first African-American in the White House stopped over in Ghana long enough in 2009 to say: “I have the blood of Africa within me.” But he has not been back since.

He begins a five-day visit in Senegal, chosen as a nod to its successful elections last year. He then heads to South Africa before flying on to Tanzania.

The minutely orchestrated trip will involve tight security amid threats of protests from some South African Muslim groups and trade unions, which blame South Africa’s problems on global capitalism. US warships will shadow the delegation and bulletproof glass will be trucked in to protect the hotels where he stays. A planned safari was cancelled after it was considered too cumbersome to have snipers at the ready to kill any animals that got too close.

In a foreword to the 2010 collection of Mr Mandela’s writing Nelson Mandela: Conversations With Myself, Mr Obama cited the legendary South African leader as his inspiration for getting involved in politics while a college student in California. He wrote that he would occasionally seek the older man’s advice in brief telephone conversations, which taught him that “underneath the history that has been made, there is a human being”.

The pair are not expected to meet, a spokesperson for the South African presidency said. Mr Obama is, however, due to visit Robben Island, the former prison colony where Mr Mandela contracted the tuberculosis that is blamed for his recurring lung infections. It will be Mr Obama’s second visit to the island off Cape Town. He will also be speaking a few streets away from Mr Mandela’s hospital in Pretoria on Saturday.

Yesterday, members of Mr Mandela's family held a meeting with elders of the Thembu tribe over "sensitive family matters" arising from his long hospitalisation.

Mr Mandela's children, grandchildren, family elders and local members of the Thembu royal council - which the Mandela family forms part of - met in the village of Qunu for a discussion that is reported to have become "heated".

Although the specific reason for the meeting has been withheld, family elder Napilisi Mandela told South African media it was called to discuss “delicate matters pertaining to the anti-apartheid icon”, while another relative detailed the last minute nature of the gathering, stating: “many of us in the village were only told this morning”.

President Obama's tour is designed to be a reminder of America’s soft power on the continent. Despite being overtaken by China, whose trade with Africa is now worth double the $100bn relationship with the US, America and its part-African President retain huge popularity. The US has 51 embassies to China’s 41 and is active in military efforts to contain the threat of Islamic extremists from Nigeria and Mali to the Horn of Africa.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick