Obama visits Mandela's former prison cell

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — US President Barack Obama paid tribute to his hero Nelson Mandela today, visiting the jail cell on Robben Island where the anti-apartheid icon spent 18 of his 27 years as a prisoner.

Obama, his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia visited the wind-swept island off Cape Town with another former political prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, as their guide.

Kathrada was imprisoned along with Mandela and other activists following the Rivonia Trial in 1964, and also spent 18 years on the island.

The group visited the dusty limestone quarry where anti-apartheid leaders including Mandela were forced to do hard labor. Mandela was left with damaged eyes and lungs as a result of his time working in the quarry.

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"On behalf of our family we're deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield," Obama wrote in the Robben Island museum's guestbook.

"The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit."

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While in South Africa, Obama will not visit Mandela, who remains critically ill at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. Instead he and the first lady visited Mandela family members and spoke by telephone with his wife, Graca Machel.

Following his trip to Robben Island, Obama visited a health clinic to highlight efforts in fighting HIV/AIDS, and spoke at the University of Cape Town in what was the main speech of his three-country Africa tour.

The president announced a $7-billion initiative, "Power Africa," that will double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa — "a light where currently there's darkness, the energy to lift people out of poverty," he said.

Obama and his family will fly Monday to Tanzania in East Africa, the last country on their trip following Senegal and South Africa.

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