Obama South Africa-Bound

Photograph by Dean Hutton/Bloomberg

An African National Congress (ANC) employee attaches posters to the outside of the political party’s headquarters following the announcement of the death of the former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 6, 2013.

Updated at 8:28 am EST

President Barack Obama has said that the first political activity he took part in, as a young man, was a protest of South Africa’s Apartheid.

This morning, he and first lady Michelle Obama headed out to Andrews Air Force Base for a long flight to South Africa, bound for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Tuesday. They were wheels up at 8:24 am EST.

Former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton is with them aboard Air Force One. Former President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush also were expected aboard the presidential aircraft.

Obama was a community activist.

Mandela was a revolutionary, albeit a peaceful agent in his most important years.

Obama is the first African-American president elected in a nation founded on African slavery. Mandela was the first black president of a post-Apartheid African nation.

“Nelson Mandela is no longer with us, he belongs to the ages,” Obama said the night Mandela died, at age 95. “Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man. His own struggle inspired others to believe in the promise of a better world, and the rightness of reconciliation. ”

Mandela is remembered for, among many other things, his refusal to retaliate against those who imprisoned him for years. To do so, he said, he’d still be living within his own prison.

“His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better,” Obama said at Mandela’s death. “His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the life of nations or our own personal lives.”

“While we mourn his loss, we will forever honor Nelson Mandela’s memory. He left behind a South Africa that is free and at peace with itself — a close friend and partner of the United States. And his memory will be kept in the hearts of billions who have been lifted up by the power of his example.”

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