Obama travels to South Africa as Mandela's condition worsens

Obama headed to South Africa: Will he meet wi... 02:42

(CBS News) President Obama headed to South Africa Friday, the second stop on his three-nation tour of Africa. The president left Senegal and will land at an air base outside of Pretoria, South Africa -- the scene of another major story as Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition.

It's been three weeks since Mandela was admitted to the hospital for the recurring lung infection that's progressively gotten worse. The condition is still described as critical but stable, but his general condition is understood to be on the decline.

With hope of a recovery fading, the hospital in Pretoria where Mandela lies hovering between life and death continues to be a place of pilgrimage. A class of young children were the first to offer tributes Friday.

After the crisis on Thursday, when the Mandela family was summoned to the hospital on the grim news that he had taken a turn for the worst, doctors managed to stabilize him.

But as the crowds have continued to build, the Mandela story has taken another ugly turn. With official news of his condition sparse and sometimes misleading, news reports - including ours - have provided more detail than the government has put out.

Nelson Mandela's family summoned to hospital
Mandela vigil morphs into a quasi-political rally

The conflict between the desire for privacy and the demand for honest information has caused friction.

That bubbled over in an interview given to South African TV by Mandela's daughter, Makaziwe Mandela. "It's like truly vultures, waiting when the lion has devoured the buffalo, waiting there to, you know, the last carcass," she said. "That's the image that we have as a family, and we don't mind interest, but I just think it has gone overboard."

And into this long, sad drama, Mr. Obama is due to arrive. He has met Mandela before, when he was in the United States, considers him an inspirational figure and had wanted to meet him and family members in South Africa. But the White House said the president will follow the family's lead on what's possible.

In a statement, the president said, "I don't need a photo-op, and the last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned about Nelson Mandela's condition. I've had the opportunity to meet with him. Michelle and the girls had an opportunity to meet with him. Right now, our main concern is with his well-being, his comfort, and with the family's well-being and comfort.


"So when we get there we'll gauge the situation, but I think the main message we'll want to deliver if not directly to him but to his family is simply our profound gratitude for his leadership all these years and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, and his family, and his country. I think in that sense, the sentiment of Americans is universally shared around the world."

Mandela's fate seems to be in the hands of those who determine how much medical intervention to continue to provide. And, thus far, nobody seems to be able or willing to make that decision.

Watch Mark Phillips' report in the player above