Barack Obama Remembers Nelson Mandela, His Legacy

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) - President Barack Obama arrived in South Africa on Tuesday for a day of remembrance and celebration for his personal hero Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid icon who died last week at age 95.

Obama's motorcade pulled up to a rain-soaked stadium in Johannesburg about an hour into the ceremony, where world leaders and Mandela's grandchildren were lionizing the former South African president. Mourners erupted into massive cheers as they first spotted Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on television screens.

Joining Obama on the 16-hour trip aboard Air Force One were former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were also scheduled to attend the memorial service, but traveled to South Africa separately.

The Obamas, the Bushes and Mrs. Clinton departed the front steps of the presidential plane together, a rare grouping of a current, former and possibly future president.

Obama will be among the speakers at Tuesday's memorial, joining tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of dignitaries at the outdoor stadium in Johannesburg. A singing, joyous crowd was filling the stadium early Tuesday morning despite the rainy conditions.

White House aides said Obama began crafting his 20-minute remarks for the memorial after Mandela's passing last week. The president was expected to discuss Mandela's impact on his own life, as well as his transformation from prisoner to president.

"He obviously is cemented in our memory as an icon, but he was an extraordinary political leader, an extraordinary leader of a movement to bring about change," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

Obama's own political rise has drawn comparisons to Mandela. Each has the distinction of being his nation's first black president and each was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But people close to Obama say the U.S. president is well aware that his own experience pales in comparison to Mandela's 27 years in prison fighting against a repressive government that brutally enforced laws that enshrined racial discrimination.

By the time Obama became president, Mandela had retired from public life. But they did have one in-person meeting, a hastily arranged 2005 encounter while Mandela was visiting Washington. The South African leader had been encouraged to meet a young, black U.S. senator who was a rising star in American politics and invited Obama to visit him at his hotel.

A single photo from the meeting shows the two men smiling and shaking hands, with Obama standing and Mandela sitting, his legs stretched out in front of him. The photo hangs in Obama's personal office at the White House, as well as in Mandela's office in Johannesburg.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Barack Obama Remembers Nelson Mandela, His Legacy
President Barack Obama, left, and first lady Michelle Obama, right, arrive at Waterkloof Air Base for a memorial service in honor of former South African leader Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in Centurion, South Africa. World leaders, celebrities, and citizens from all walks of life gathered for a memorial service on Tuesday to pay respects to Mandela. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama waves to the crowd from the stands as he arrives for the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
In this image from TV, US former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hugging Nkoana-Mashabane on arrival to Johannesburg airport, South Africa, ahead of a memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. Hundreds of foreign dignitaries and world heads of states gather Tuesday with thousands of South African people to celebrate the life, and mark the death, of Nelson Mandela who has became a global symbol of reconciliation. (AP Photo/SABC Pool)
French President Francois Hollande, centre right, speaks with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, 2nd left, ahead of the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Actress Charlize Theron waits with musician Bono for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Former Bishop Desmond Tutu, right, and Irish President Mary Robinson arrive for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele arrive for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Norway's Crown Prince Haakon arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Cuba?s President Raul Castro Ruz arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Sonia Gandhi, right, is greeted as she arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
South African President Jacob Zuma arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff waves as she arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Former British Prime Minister John Major arrives for the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Former South African president FW De Klerk gestures as he arrives with his wife Elita for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, left, and Belgian King Philippe arrive for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, center, takes his seat for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Spain?s Prince Felipe, center, arrives for the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, listens to speakers during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel lowers her head as she listens to speakers during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
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