Obama pays tribute to Madiba

U.S. President Barack Obama praised his personal hero Nelson Mandela in Soweto.

US President Barack Obama speaks during his Town Hall with Young African Leaders at the University of Johannesburg's Soweto campus on June 29, 2013. Picture: Christa van der Walt/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - U.S. President Barack Obama said one of Nelson Mandela's greatest legacies was to show the world that a country could prosper despite a painful history.

Obama spoke to youth leaders on Saturday at a Town Hall event in Soweto.

He made a short address to announce the expansion of a fellowship programme based in America and then took questions from across the continent.

Obama may not have got the word Mzantsi quite right but he received a hero's welcome and spoke passionately about Soweto.

"The uprising here helped open my mind to a brighter world."

Obama spoke about his personal hero Mandela.

"There were dark moments that tested his faith in humanity but he refused to give up. He said 'part of being optimistic is keeping one's head towards the sun and one's feet moving forward.'"

Khadija Patel was one of the South Africans Obama mentioned by name.

She said he delivered more than just words.

"My shout-out is a representative of people who are doing far greater in better things than I am. We are nothing without each other."

PRIVATE MEETING

Meanwhile, Obama met privately with Madiba's family at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton on Saturday while dozens of well-wishers continued to leave messages of goodwill at his nearby home.

The former president spent his 23rd day at the Pretoria Mediclinic Heart Hospital and remains in a critical condition.

This is the 94-year-old's fourth hospitalisation since December.

He was admitted to the Mediclinic Heart Hospital for a re-occurring lung infection on 8 June.

Obama arrived at the centre in a more than 20 vehicle motorcade to visit Madiba's family.

He spent about 40 minutes with Makaziwe, Zindzi and Ndaba while Gra├ža Machel was at Madiba's bedside in hospital.

Down the road from where the meeting took place, dozens of well-wishers continued to stop by Madiba's house to pay their respects.

They wished the statesman well.

"We just want to wish Mandela a speedy recovery. We don't want him to go."

Another woman said, "I really hope that he gets better much quicker."

This has been the scene daily since Madiba's hospitalisation almost three weeks ago with scores of South Africans and tourists stopping by the house to drop off flowers and messages of support.