Michelle Obama meets Nelson Mandela in South Africa

First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to former South African President Nelson Mandela Tuesday, kicking off her own symbolic trip to Africa by meeting one of the continent's most revered leaders.

Obama, accompanied by her mother and two daughters, visited the 92-year-old anti-apartheid icon at his home in Johannesburg's Houghton suburb.

Pictures released by the Nelson Mandela Foundation showed a smiling Mandela sitting upright on a couch next to the first lady and her children. He was dressed in a brightly colored shirt -- known in South Africa as a "Madiba shirt" after his clan name used by most South Africans.

The meeting, which included Obama's niece and nephew who are also traveling with her, lasted about 20 minutes.

Mandela has not been seen in public since he was hospitalized at the start of the year, suffering from a respiratory disease.
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He paid a visit to his home village in May, the first since he spent several days in hospital in January. Since then he has received medical care at his Houghton home.

Mandela retired from public life in June 2004 before his 86th birthday, telling his adoring compatriots: "Don't call me, I'll call you." Since then he has rarely appeared in public and when he did, he appeared increasingly frail.

White House officials had hoped Obama would be able to see Mandela during her trip, but the meeting was not confirmed until midday Tuesday.

Mandela was South Africa's first black president. President Barack Obama is the United States' first black president, and his wife is the first black presidential spouse.

Mandela met President Obama in Washington in 2005 when he was a senator. A picture of the two men is kept in Mandela's office, according to a White House aide.

Earlier Mrs. Obama visited the foundation offices, viewing a display of archival items including Mandela's prison desk calendars and notebooks.

Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, showed the Obama family around the exhibits, affectionately putting her arms around the two girls and checking on the first lady's mother with a call of: "Are you there, ma?"

The first lady arrived in South Africa late Monday and earlier met Nompumelelo Zuma, one of President Jacob Zuma's wives, in the capital Pretoria.

The visit by Mrs. Obama to South Africa and Botswana is her second official solo journey abroad with a goal of advancing U.S. policies on education, health, and democracy.