Nightly News   |  June 29, 2013

Obama on Mandela: ‘A country can prosper despite tragic history’

President Obama’s three-day visit to South Africa was originally intended to showcase U.S trade and development priorities, but is now almost entirely focused on the health and legacy of Nelson Mandela, who remains hospitalized with a lung infection. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> president obama remains in south africa tonight, a trip in the works for months, but comes at a delicate time as that country deals with the failing health of its beloved former president nelson mandela . president obama met privately with nelson mandela to honor the leader's place in history and offer support.

>> reporter: the three- day trip to africa originally designed to focus on trade in the subsaharan region has become all about the ailing nelson mandela , not only his legacy in south africa but for the entire world. from the moment that president obama set foot on presidential grounds on pretoria, only one question, the health of nelson mandela .

>> he remains critical but stable. nothing has changed so far. we hope that very soon he will be out of the hospital.

>> reporter: referring to mandela by his tribal name, president obama , as he has done, shared his personal feelings.

>> madiba's moral courage , this country's historic transition to free and democratic nation has been a personal inspiration to me.

>> reporter: he essentially called him the george washington of south africa , noting how like america's founding father, mandela knew to grow a democracy, he to walk away from power.

>> nelson mandela , similarly, was able to recognize despite how revered he was, that part of this transition process was to make sure that it was bigger than just one person.

>> reporter: after the press conference, the president went to the mandela center in johannesburg and met privately with nelson mandela 's children and fwrand childrgrandchildren. his wife was not there for the meeting. i expressed my hope that madiba draws peace and comfort from the time is he spending with loved ones. the president has been well received by officials, but a few protesters gathered at the suiite of a town hall meeting . the subject turned back to mandela 's legacy.

>> one of the greatest legacies of nelson mandela , that a country can prosper, despite a tragic history.

>> reporter: the president spends one more day in south africa , where he will be meeting with nobel laureate desmond tutu and then will go to robins island , where nelson mandela was imprisoned.