US President Barack Obama has arrived in Johannesburg on a visit set to be dominated by global concern about the health of Nelson Mandela.
Obama played down speculation that he might visit the anti-apartheid leader, who he has described as a ‘personal hero’, in hospital.
Mandela is in serious condition in a Pretoria clinic, where a crowd of well-wishers have kept a vigil for days.
Outside the clinic, African National Congress (ANC) spokesman Jackson Mthembu said Obama’s visit should not be overshadowed by Mandela’s ailing health:
“In the world, in what’s happening, we would have wished that Obama was coming here and Madiba was well and up and about and able to see and welcome Obama, but that is not to be. That doesn’t mean it’s an awkward time because there are many other things that Obama is going to do in the country, even things that speak to Madiba’s ideals.”
Across town, an angry protest took place outside Pretoria’s US Embassy against Obama’s foreign policies, which some of the activists described as “arrogant and oppressive”.