President Obama is traveling to South Africa on Monday ahead of the memorial service for anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.


The president left the White House early Monday morning for the more than 8,000-mile trip to Johannesburg. He’ll be joined aboard Air Force One by first lady Michelle Obama, as well as former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Former President Bill Clinton, his daughter Chelsea, and former President Jimmy Carter will travel separately to the event. A delegation of two dozen lawmakers, including civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), departed separately from Joint Base Andrews on Monday morning.

Former President George H.W. Bush is the only living president who will not attend the Tuesday memorial service at the Johannesburg soccer stadium that hosted the final match of the 2010 World Cup. Bush was hospitalized earlier this year with a respiratory infection, and his spokesman has said that he is unable to travel.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Washington in time for votes planned on Thursday, but the White House has not provided details of when the president will come back to the U.S.

Obama could opt to stay in South Africa through the week and attend Mandela’s funeral on Dec. 15. More likely, he’ll return home on Wednesday following a memorial ceremony expected to draw leaders from across the world.

White House officials have indicated that the president will deliver remarks about Mandela’s legacy at some point during the trip, although they have not advised when that would occur.

Last week, Obama phoned both Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, and South African President Jacob Zuma to express his condolences.

Obama and Mandela met in person once, in 2005, when he was a U.S. senator.

But last week, Obama said that Mandela’s legacy had long shaped his view of the world and politics.

“The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears,” Obama said. “And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.”

Earlier this year, Obama and his family visited Robben Island, the jail where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.

The first family toured the jail cell where Mandela was imprisoned, and Obama told his daughters about how political nonviolence took root in the country.

Obama wrote in a guest book that he was "deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield."

The president had hoped to meet with Mandela during his visit to the country, but that visit was scrapped due to Mandela's ailing health.