Obama arrived in Cape Town Sunday from Johannesburg, where he met privately with members of Mandela's family and spoke with the former president's wife. In keeping with the family's wishes, Obama did not visit Mandela in the hospital.
On a sunny winter day in the Southern Hemisphere, Obama and his family flew by helicopter to Robben Island, the prison that epitomized the struggle of Mandela and his contemporaries against apartheid rule. The Obamas were led through the island by Ahmed Kathrada, an 83-year-old former prisoner who was held alongside Mandela and had also given Obama a tour of the jail when he visited as a U.S. senator in 2006.
The Obamas solemnly peered across the bright white lime quarry where Mandela worked each day. They spent 20 minutes inside the tiny cell where Mandela spent nearly two decades of his life, all the while inspiring the anti-apartheid movement on mainland South Africa.
Before closing their visit, Obama and wife Michelle stoically entered a prison courtyard, the president's hand on the small of the first lady's back, to sign a guestbook.
"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield," Obama wrote. "The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."
The president also stopped Sunday at a health center overseen by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a visit aimed at highlighting the impact of a U.S.-funded program to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS. The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, was started by George W. Bush and continued by Obama.
Obama praised Tutu's work in an emotional meeting in which Tutu said Africans are praying that Obama will be a success and a leader for peace, particularly in the Middle East. Many of their aides were brought to tears as the two men embraced in a hug.
The White House said the U.S. will spend about $4.2 billion on PEPFAR funding this year, money that has been used to increase the number of people receiving life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
Bush, who has stayed active on Africa issues since leaving office, was scheduled to be in Tanzania Monday, the same day Obama arrives in the East African nation. The White House did not rule out the possibility of a meeting between the two presidents.