Washington - Former South African president Nelson Mandela has been an “inspiration” to US President Barack Obama, whose thoughts and prayers are with the ailing leader, the White House has said.

Obama “has found president Mandela to be an inspiration in his own personal life, but also in his professional career,” spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday, recalling meetings with Mandela by both the president and First Lady Michelle Obama.

“The president is being kept apprised of the former president's health condition, and certainly our thoughts and prayers go out to the former president and his family,” Earnest said. - Sapa-dpa