Former presidents to travel to Mandela memorial
December 6th, 2013
04:29 PM ET
4 years 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. 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.

    And I hope the dose Obmaa gets of Bill Clinton isn't too much for him to handle!!! hehehehe

    December 6, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  2. Josh

    I'm betting Obama will start by apologizing to Bush for demonizing him so much and acting like being President is an easy and straightforward job. Funny how whenever most presidents get done being in office they become somewhat of a brotherhood regardless of political beliefs because they all went through the same hard time of running this country. We'll see if Obama gets invited into the club.

    December 6, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  3. rad666

    How much will it cost American taxpayer for two private citizens' trips?

    December 6, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  4. rick

    Hmm I wonder if they did the same thing when Osama died ? Or will they do the same when Mugabe dies ?? Since when does a racial terrorists get to be venerated by the world ??? Hypocrisy...This man destroyed South Africa, he made life worse from ALL South Africans, today segregation and racism in south Africa is worse than it's ever been.

    December 6, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  5. Stop the Madness

    Can you say awkward?

    December 6, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  6. hoosier

    I"m thinking Bush is the last person anyone should ask about the economy, since he's the reason for the whole mess to start with..

    December 6, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  7. Gurgyl

    @donna, probably, you don't know, ACA is a Law, it is working just great. Insurance cancelations are GOP thugs ruse, plot. But, they are also reinstating the insurances fearing these cancelation patients flock to Healthcare Exchanges at more cheaper rates with lower deductions. Did you see the psychiatrist lately. Hope you do. God bless you to bicker like useless congress thugs to pull back on progress of jobs, low Oil.

    December 6, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  8. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Leave it up to Donna to say something completely irrelevant. Now to the topic at hand. I think that it's a great show of solidarity that our leaders can come together on a momentous occasion like this to let the people of South Africa know just how much of an impact their leader had on the world and the United States. God bless Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa.

    December 6, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. steve

    I think it's great that 3 of the 4 former presidents can attend to show our respect! Very cool.

    December 6, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  10. midas360

    Do they all 3 ride on the same plane?

    December 6, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  11. don in albuquerque

    @rick-Afraid of the bogey man? Much..

    December 6, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  12. Peter


    Yes, let's ask George W, Bush about the economy. After all, the stock market was at 8000 and we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every month toward the end of his administration.

    Maybe Obama can ask Bush how he kept the Iraq war spending off the books, too.

    December 6, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  13. not quite right

    It's not that the US doesn't care for humans. It's that corporations don't care for humans. They are comparable to true sociopaths. Watch The Corporation...they will explain it.

    December 6, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Bonnie

    EXCUSE ME but can we just allow our presidents, past and present, to honor this brave and honorable man without snarky comments??

    December 6, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  15. mistvall

    So now instead of just one they'll need to bring THREE divisions of their SS bodyguards, three fleets of C130s carrying armored limos, and 500 administrative staff. The emperor shall sail to Africa with a grand delegation, to impress upon its peoples the power and wastefulness of the United States.

    December 6, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  16. daeh ttub

    The Secret Service better be in top form during this trip. Let's hope all our Top Guns are on this trip protecting our Presidents. Here's wishing a safe and speedy trip for ALL our Presidents. Let's cut the partisan claptrap here.

    December 6, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  17. Edutron

    Just a waste of tax payer money. There is no way in hell the Stars and Stripes should be flying at half mast for a non-U.S. citizen. Wait a minute, maybe so since the current U.S. president is a non-U.S. citizen. Are you kidding. This flag has been flying at half mast at 50% of the current presidents office time. That is a showing of pacifism and cowardess. No wonder China knows they can conquer the U.S. and they are doing it!

    December 6, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  18. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Since when does a racial terrorists get to be venerated by the world ???
    He was labelled a terrorist by the white powers that implemented apartheid. Even labelled a terrorists by the right wing radicals in this country. Take a long look in the mirror and realize who is responsible for the eradication of an entire race, apartheid, slavery, Jim Crown and wars in other peoples land.

    December 6, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. anchorite

    Well that's odd that Clinton is going considering his Dept of State labelled Mandela a terrorist.

    December 6, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  20. OldSchool

    Aaaand cue the predictable whining about the costs of such a security nightmare...

    December 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  21. Guest

    How can Bush clue Obama on how the economy works when Obama is cleaning up the mess Bush left behind? Really?

    December 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  22. Gurgyl

    My advise to Obama, and Bill is this–please don't talk of Iraq war, Tora bora Bin Laden escape. Be good–we all know he is the worst president in USA history, but he is an American, always protect him in foreign soil. Good lucks.

    December 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  23. NC

    No matter what the party affiliation there is and always be a bond between our Presidents. It is something that I don't think any of us can or will ever understand. That is why we are The United States Of America. Unlike the rest of us that can second guess after the fact our Presidents have the toughest job in the world. It is great to see this kind of unity between our Presidents. Something that we all could learn from. Have a Blessed weekend everyone.

    December 6, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  24. Lynda/Minnesota

    The conversation within the ticker comment section has certainly taken a turn for the worse.

    I'm talking grade school ... lower case (rubber and glue – sticks and stones) levels.

    December 6, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |

    It is good and graceful for Obama to invite the Bushes to ride along! If anything was scheduled to hapeen the Bushes being on the plane too should stop that from happening...we all know how much our own first Black President is always being villified...just saying, we`re showing more love for another countries` former leader than our own! Keep in mind Mandela was also once considered a terrorist...seems like the office of President does not stop the demonizing regardless of the country, that is unless the guy leading is a White one.

    December 6, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
1 2