Obama on Mandela: 'I Do Not Need a Photo Op' It remains up in the air whether he will meet the ailing luminary By Kevin Spak, Newser Staff Posted Jun 28, 2013 10:12 AM CDT 58 comments Comments US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama wave as they board Air Force One to depart for South Africa, in Dakar, Senegal, Friday, June 28, 2013 (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) (Newser) – Barack Obama is en route to South Africa just as Nelson Mandela looks en route to the hereafter (though his ex-wife says he's showing "great improvement"). But Obama says he won't push too hard to see the ailing luminary, for fear of being an unwanted complication. "We'll see what the situation is when we land," Obama said while on Air Force One, the AFP reports. "I do not need a photo op. ... I think that the message we'll want to deliver is not directly to him but to his family, is simply profound gratitude for his leadership all these years." Don't take that as indifference; Obama considers Mandela a major inspiration, and says he got into politics via the anti-apartheid movement, the New York Times reports. When Oprah Winfrey offered to convey a message from the then-senator to Mandela in 2005, Obama spent so long writing it that Robert Gibbs had to go check on him. "I can't just wing a note to Nelson Mandela," Obama protested. Obama eventually met Mandela later that year, in a chance meeting in Washington—and it remains their only face-to-face encounter.