Hollande’s supporters are presenting the move as a gesture of courtesy and goodwill, a reflection of Mandela’s own generous attitude towards his political foes.
The move has met publicly with general approval in French political circles but nevertheless created a few headaches.
There is little love lost between Hollande and Sarkozy, and Hollande was perceived by many as ungracious in his treatment of Sarkozy on the day he took over the presidency.
It would therefore have been impossible to imagine the two men actually sharing the same presidential Airbus.
Sarkozy’s costly refurbishment of the presidential airbus while he was in office, to make it better equipped and more like the US presidential plane, also sparked some criticism when he was president.
Officially for reasons of cost, it has therefore been decided that instead Hollande and Sarkozy will travel to Johannesburg in two separate, smaller Falcon Jets.
When President Hollande travelled to South Africa in October with his partner Valérie Trierweiler, they did not meet Mandela because he was too ill.
Sarkozy met Nelson Mandela in 2008.