U.S. President Barack Obama has praised the "moral courage" of South African antiapartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Speaking in Pretoria during a press conference with South African President Jacob Zuma on June 29, Obama referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba, and said his triumph in fighting racial segregation had served as a source of inspiration.
"The struggle here against apartheid, for freedom, Madiba's moral courage, this country's historic transition to a free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me, it has been an inspiration to the world," Obama said.
Obama's remarks come as Mandela, the 94-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate and South Africa's first black president, remains hospitalized in grave condition with a lung infection.
The U.S. president and First Lady Michelle Obama are due to meet Mandela's family members, but will not visit Mandela in the hospital out of respect for the family's wishes.
In a statement, the White House said the decision was made "out of deference to Nelson Mandela's peace and comfort and the family's wishes."
Mandela's condition was reported on June 28 to have improved slightly. Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie said his condition seemed to be improving, but that he remained unwell.
Obama, who met Mandela as a U.S. senator in 2005, said his thoughts were with "Mandela and his family and all of South Africans."
Obama, who is on the second leg of a three-country Africa tour, will also visit Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison when South Africa was ruled by a racist minority white regime.
The U.S. president arrived in South Africa late on June 28 after visiting Senegal. He will end his Africa tour with a final stop in Tanzania.
Among other things, Obama has used the tour to announce a new series of agricultural initiatives sponsored by the U.S. government and private companies, including $177 million for food security in Senegal.
He also said he did not feel "threatened" by China's leading role in African investment, saying all foreign investment helps bring Africa deeper into the global economy.
But much of Obama's visit has been overshadowed by the global focus on Mandela, whom the U.S. president has referred to as a personal hero.
President Zuma, speaking at the June 29 press conference, acknowledged Obama's words and noted that both he and Mandela shared a similar experience as the first black leaders of their countries.
"Thus you both carry the dreams of millions of people in Africa and in the diaspora who were previously oppressed," Zuma said.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters