Obama Visits Mandela's Prison Cell

President Obama looks out the window of Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, where the anti-apartheid leader was imprisoned for 18 years, (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Nelson Mandela spent 18 years incarcerated on Robben Island, near the South African city Cape Town, before being freed in 1990.

JOHANNESBURG — President Barack Obama is paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, the ailing, 94-year-old former president of South Africa. Obama and the first family were visiting Robben Island, where the anti-apartheid leader spent 18 years confined to a tiny cell, including a stop at the lime quarry where Mandela toiled and developed the lung problems that sent him to the hospital for most of the month.

The White House said Obama's guide during the tour was 83-year-old South African politician Ahmed Kathrada, who also was held at the prison for nearly two decades and guided Obama on his 2006 visit to the prison as a U.S. senator. The president also saw the prison courtyard where Mandela planted grapevines that remain today, and where he and others in the dissident leadership would discuss politics, sneak notes to one another and hide writings.