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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before