WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa next week to pay respects to Nelson Mandela, the White House announced Friday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the Obamas will participate in memorial events, but didn’t say specifically what day they planned to be in South Africa. The South African government announced that Mandela would be honored with a state burial on Dec. 15.
Mandela died Thursday at age 95. In remarks following his death, Obama said he is one of the countless millions who were inspired by the South African leader.
“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” Obama said in a somber appearance at the White House.
“I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life,” he continued. “And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.”
Obama’s political rise has drawn inevitable comparisons to Mandela’s. Both are Nobel Peace Prize winners and the first black men elected to lead their countries.
However, the two men met in person only once, a hastily arranged meeting in a Washington hotel room in 2005 when Obama was a U.S. senator.
Mandela’s illness prevented a meeting with Obama when the U.S. president visited South Africa this year.
Obama has ordered that the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff at the White House, federal buildings, military bases and embassies until sunset Monday.