Former presidents to travel to Mandela memorial
December 6th, 2013
04:29 PM ET
8 months ago

Former presidents to travel to Mandela memorial

Updated 5:33 p.m. ET, 12/6/2013

(CNN) – Former President George W. Bush will join President Barack Obama on a trip to South Africa to attend a memorial for Nelson Mandela. Former President Bill Clinton will also fly to the country, but details on his travel plans have not been released.

"President and Mrs. George W. Bush have gratefully accepted the President and Mrs. Obama's invitation to accompany them to South Africa on Air Force One and attend President Nelson Mandela's memorial services next week," Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said.

Separately, a spokesman with Clinton confirmed the 42nd president was going to the event.

An earlier version of this story stated that Clinton would be traveling with Obama. However, CNN has only confirmed that Clinton is going to South Africa, not whether he is traveling with the current President.

A spokesman for former President George H. W. Bush said he is not attending the Mandela memorial, citing the traveling distance and the former president's advanced age. He is 89.

George W. Bush and Bill Clinton met with Mandela multiple times in the past two decades.

While George W. Bush and Mandela disagreed on the Iraq War, they were both passionate advocates for combating AIDS in Africa.

"Sometimes, there are leaders who come and go. His legacy will last for a long time," Bush told CNN's Robin Curnow in July.

Reminded by Curnow that Mandela had criticized him publicly about the war in Iraq, Bush said he didn't bear a grudge.

"He wasn't the only guy," he said. "It's OK. I made decisions that were the right decisions. History will ultimately judge. I never held someone's opinion against him; I didn't look at him differently because he didn't agree with me on an issue."

While he was in office, Bush set up a plan that dramatically reduced the number of AIDS deaths in Africa. Mandela was also active on that front, as the disease killed his son at the age of 55.

Mandela, who became South Africa's first elected black president in 1994 and did not seek re-election in 1999, visited the White House at least twice during Bush's tenure–in 2001 and 2005.

Upon learning of his death Thursday, Bush issued a statement saying Mandela was "one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time."

"He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example," Bush continued. "This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela's family and to the citizens of the nation he loved."

For his part, Clinton has had a long relationship with Mandela that spans to shortly after the time Mandela was released from prison.

Clinton told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday that he and the revered statesman had a "genuine friendship" that began in 1992 at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

"I was about to be nominated for president. And former Mayor David Dinkins, who was a longtime supporter of Mandela's brought him up to our rooms, which is where he met with Hillary and Chelsea and me," Clinton recalled.

"We hit it off right away."

Mandela later came to Clinton's inauguration in 1993, and then-first lady Hillary Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore also led a delegation at Mandela's inauguration in 1994.

Clinton said the two worked together throughout the South African leader's presidency, which ended in 1999. He later noted that he would visit South Africa every year around Mandela's birthday and has been to the country around "nine or 10 times" since leaving office.

Despite their closeness, Clinton and Mandela occasionally diverged on diplomatic issues, like Cuba. Mandela "had a fierce loyalty" to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and anyone who supported him during his time in captivity.

Hillary Clinton on Mandela: 'The loss of a giant among us'

Both Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met with Mandela in his final years. Hillary last visited him at his home in South Africa in August 2012, while Bill and Chelsea visited him a month prior.

Obama spoke by phone with Graça Machel, Mandela's wife, Friday to express condolences, gratitude and "thanks for the joy that Graça Machel brought to Nelson Mandela’s life, and the commitment to a peaceful, fair, and loving world that she and President Mandela shared," according to the White House.

– CNN's Ashley Killough and Dana Davidsen contributed to this report.

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Donna

    We can only hope that during the long plane trip there that Bush and Clinton can clue Obama into how our economy and healthcare system work
    -------------------------------------------------
    In the first paragraph of this article it states that the Clinton's taravel plans have yet to be determined.
    You're a pathological liar and an idiot to boot Donna. You just can't help yourself, but I sure wish you'd keep it to yourself.

    December 6, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. Never Gone' Happen MittensRobme

    @Donna,
    yes, let's ask clueless GW Bush...he was the only sitting president of the US with a masters degree in economics (the irony lol)..yet, he was the architect of the greatest recession in American history, 2 unpaid for wars charged to China's credit card, responsible for losing an average of 750K jobs per month at the end of his presidency, the DOW dropped in half from 12,000 to less 6k, devasted the banking & mortgage industry....but your hatred of the first black president has blinded you reality and the FACTS!!!

    What do I know? I'm just a clueless socialist liberal feeding off the govt. teats...that will be your standard response of course; but when you look at the econmy today under Obama's watch....the reverse is the case: over 200k JOBS created just for November alone and the economy is picking up steam....now get some CLUE!!!!

    December 6, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  3. Michael Plodi

    The US likes to tout its' great diplomacy and working together-ness. Why then choose to ostracize a living president? Jimmy Carter is still alive. He was a president of the United States. Jimmy Carter won his presidential election fair and square, without the "help" of the supreme court justices. According to what I see, he is still fit enough to travel on Airforce One. Why leave him out of the entourage that went to bury Pope John Paul II , who became Pope when Jimmy Carter was president of the US, and why leave him out of this this time around? Because he was a one-term president? So was George H.W. who has been invited but has declined to travel, as stated above. The Obama administration has always touted itself as being inclusive. This is a great opportunity for you to make a very powerful statement on the international stage, at the funeral of a very exemplary leader. You, the Obama Administration, choose to fumble this opportunity as well? Too bad your last election is behind us; for while I cannot vote Republican, I would have withheld my vote for you. Shame on you, Mr. President. Shame on you.

    December 6, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  4. Cain V

    Nelson Mandela had zero impact on My life and zero impact on the lives of US citizens

    December 6, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  5. GOP = Greed Over People

    The shrub had to be on AF1 and accompanied by President Obama, otherwise, he would have been arrested for international war crimes and sent to The Hague.

    December 6, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The usual suspects even at the risk of exposing their willful stupidity will gripe at the fact that President Obama was gracious enough to give the Bushes a lift.
    They will not, of course, complain about the security detail cost of these two EX-Presidents flying abroad.
    They won't comment on why the wives of these two EX-presidents have to come along.
    And they certainly will not give the President any credit for his graciousness, thoughtfulness and eye towards saving the Bushes and the country some bucks.
    Indeed.
    They will instead create a falsehood (Clinton flying with President Obama) in order to bash the President under false pretenses.
    You're pathetic and un-American.

    December 6, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  7. anonymous

    tom l
    An all timer. So the "Michigan Emergency Manager Detroit" is a repub and he's responsible for the bankruptcy but the 60+ years of 99.999% of the City Council that has been democrats doesn't? See....they had to go into bankruptcy based on the years of what happened in the past, not today. Sniffit? I need your help here. Am I missing something?
    -–

    You're not missing anything. It's Friday and Rudy is drunk as a skunk as usual and posting whatever nonsense comes into his alcohol soaked pea brain.

    December 6, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  8. don in albuquerque

    @cain V-so did your second grade teacher.

    December 6, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  9. Obuma Sinking like a ROCK

    Out of the three Presidents, Obuma has the lowest numbers of them all. Numbers don't lie, but Obuma sure did!

    December 6, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. gugyl

    Mandela not free slaves from democrats. Still held on government plantation. Not good for anybody. We need more law.

    December 6, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    @Dominican mama--You cannot talk to people who do not want to listen, you cannot educate those who will not learn, and history has taught us that you cannot out shout the fascist horde.

    December 6, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Michael Plodi
    I understand your point concerning why wasn't JImmy Carter invited to the funeral.
    However, in all fairness, attendance at said funeral is either by invitation thorugh the deceased family or up to the individual ex-President who chooses to attend.
    I do not believe that it falls on President Obama to inivite ex-presidents to the funeral of a foreign head of state.
    I do believe that should Jimmy Carter feel compelled to attend President Obama would be happy to offer him a lift as well.

    On another note, if I were Hillary I would make separate travel arrangements.
    God forbid something untoward of any type should occur I'd hate to lose our current AND our future President.

    December 6, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  13. Michael

    Mandela approved the bombing of innocent people. He was no saint.

    December 6, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  14. wendel

    nasty trolls using every post to spread their vile remarks. The world is honoring a good man that has impacted everyone's live directly or indirectly. Foolish to think he has not. Stop the bashing of all the presidents for just a few minutes.

    December 7, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
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