President Obama sent his thoughts and prayers Thursday to Nelson Mandela, calling the ailing anti-apartheid leader his "personal hero."
Mandela, former president of South Africa, is critically ill and is hospitalized in Pretoria. Obama will visit South Africa on Saturday as part of his three-country tour but will not visit Mandela.
"He's a personal hero, but I don't think I'm unique in that regard," Obama said at a news conference in Dakar with Senegalese President Macky Sall. "I think he's a hero for the world. And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we'll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages."
Obama said he was inspired by Mandela and took part in the anti-apartheid movement - his "first act of political activism" - while he was a student at Occidental College. When Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and embraced his former captors, Obama said, "it gave me a sense of what is possible in the world when righteous people, when people of goodwill work together on behalf of a larger cause."
Obama plans to visit Robben Island, the former prison where Mandela was held, this weekend.