Transcript for Digital Report: President Obama in South Africa
This is a special report from ABC news. Hello everyone I'm Tanya Rivero in New York with -- ABC news digital special report. President Obama has touched down in South Africa the second stop on his tour of the continent. The big question today will the president visit the bedside of Nelson Mandela the father of post apartheid South Africa. Had been in declining health for months now and was put on life support earlier this week. We are joined now by ABC news chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl who has been traveling with the president. Hi there John. -- -- So many historical narratives converging on South Africa today -- the Obama team managing this very sensitive situation. Well it's a real bittersweet trip on one hand this is an historic trip obviously America's first. African American president touching down here. In South Africa -- place. They've had -- part -- racial segregation just as recently as as the 1980s. And you have Nelson Mandela. His great hero in the really the great hero of this entire continent and indeed -- the world Nelson and the bad Mandela believed to be on his deathbed. As you made reference to the president. I certainly wanted to meet with Mandela have one last chance to see somebody who he described as his personal hero somebody who inspired him. To get involved in politics back when he was a college student -- Mandela was still in prison. Very much up in the -- whether or not that will happen indeed quite unlikely given Mandela's condition on life support here. But the president in fact I have to tell you -- this whole trip. Has been touch and go -- because of Mandela's health -- There was an open question about whether or not he would even be able to come here to South Africa and like given -- the carry business of Mandela's -- -- do you have any updates on on his situation. Conflicting reports. -- he is on life support the family has come out of various times and said. Very critical -- condition the latest now saying that he is somewhat stabilized clearly though he is in hot in good shape. If there is a chance that the president will have one last. A chance for a private meeting tomorrow. -- very much up and out up in the air that -- the thing that will happen here though Tonya is. -- the president is here in South Africa this weekend. He is going to be going to visit Robben Island to visit the prison cell. Where Mandela spent eighteen of the 27. Years that he was in captivity that he was in prison. The president will get a chance to visit that prison -- it's it's something he did when he was senator but obviously now. That the meeting so much more with -- -- Again thought to be on his death. And John President Obama has certainly made no secret of his admiration for Mandela. Here's the president talking about his political -- yesterday in Senegal. My First Act of political activism. Was when I was that. Occidental College as a nineteen year old. I got involved in the entire -- -- don't. Back in 197980. Because I was inspired buyer what was taking place in South Africa. It gave me a sense. Of what is possible. And the world land. Righteous people when when people of goodwill. Work together. On behalf of a larger cause. So obviously our thoughts and prayers right now our way of the people of South Africa and more specifically Mandela family. So John obviously President Obama deeply inspired by Mandela do we know how much contact the president has had with him in the last few years -- and how they first met. We'll they've only met once and it was a ten minute meeting that almost didn't happen it was win. -- Obama was a junior -- first year senator 2005. And Nelson Mandela was visiting Washington. And he got a call -- bomb Obama got a call -- he was in route to another meeting. -- he could come in and and see Mandela at his hotel in Washington in. He turned the car around waited -- met with -- there is a single photograph is the only photograph known to exist. Of -- -- when Mandela together. Obama is in silhouette up against the up against the window you can you can only make out the the outlines of of of his body it's clearly him but. You could see Mandela there smiling as. Brock a bomb on -- leans over to shake his hand. Well -- -- that is really the only time they ever meant it in person they they have had a couple of phone calls they've exchanged over the years. And amid -- wrote him a letter. After he won in 2008. Getting elected as the first African American president. Quite moving letter personally from Nelson Mandela to drop a bomb. And I understand if they do that they are able to -- on this visit it will be a photo -- without a photo op. -- Yes as a matter fact you you so the president arriving here just a short while going Air Force One while he was flying from Senegal. He talked briefly with reporters. And said look I don't need a photo -- with Nelson Mandela I -- going to do what is right for the family. You know it's gonna do what he does here will be entirely up to that the Mandela family whether there will be one last visit but I woods expect fully expect. -- if that as it happens there will be no cameras will be a private. So be it happens to be very private the president will go it alone. To see against somebody who -- described as personal hero. Absolutely and -- Mandela's health aside from moment this is some kind of historic visit a lot has changed. And and less than twenty years. -- really -- more -- I was just speaking with somebody who was. Here covering. You know the the end of the of the -- side. Regime. Back in -- in the in the early nineties and talk about how. Radically this country has changed and by the way how relatively prosperous. -- South Africa has been. Now under age. You know it would -- -- on -- -- side era where you have. Blacks now ruling and it's it's it's -- transform countries a country -- still with great tremendous challenges. But put so much has changed it and it's so remarkable to think. -- he played Barack Obama talking about. Giving his first political speech. Happen at occidental college and when he gave that speech -- anti apartheid speech he said he was inspired in part. By Nelson Mandela to get up to give. That Mandela was in prison and would spend another ten years in prison from the moment that they did Obama gave that speech and that's why I think that the real. Emotional highlight of this trip will be. -- the President Obama goes to visit that prison cell on Robben Island to think. Of maid Della. Spending eighteen years in that -- part of you know 27 years in prison and the remarkable thing -- and the president has spoken about this. You most remarkable thing that he sees about Mandela is coming through that experience. Without the bitterness. Coming Alex and talking about reconciliation. About forgiveness not forgetting. What happened but forgiveness. And and moving beyond it in a spirit of reconciliation really an amazing exhibit a match -- Anybody going through that experience. Wanting to have volume. -- would be will be forgiven for being quite bitter that was not the case Nelson Mandela. Remarkable from an extraordinary man indeed. And ABC's chief White House correspondent John Carl in South Africa with the president today thank you for that. For more on the president's visit to South Africa I didn't go to abcnews.com. I'm -- ribeiro in New York in this has been an ABC news digital special reports. This has been a special group. Report from me.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.