PoliticsNation, Thursday, December 5th, 2013
Read the transcript from the Thursday show
December 5, 2013
Guest: Andrew Young, Ron Allen, Jonathan Alter, James Peterson
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you, Ed, and tonight grief in South
Africa, in America, and around the world for Nelson Mandela, one of the
towering figures of this century, and the last one, an inspiration for
billions of people across the globe has passed away at the age 95.
Tributes are pouring in from across the globe for this freedom fighter.
This man of peace who helped free South Africa from a apartheid and
inspired citizens of all nations. President Obama spoke just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He achieved more that could be expected of any man. And today he`s
gone home. And we`ve lost one of the most influential, courageous, and
profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this
earth. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages.
For now let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela
lived. A man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral
universe towards justice.
May God bless his memory and keep him in peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Mandela spent nearly a third of his life as a prisoner of
apartheid, but he never stopped believing in freedom for himself and his
country. Outside his home just moments ago, the people of South Africa
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
SHARPTON: We`ll be going live to South Africa in just a moment, but first
I want to bring in NBC News contributor Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She spent
years covering both Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement in South
Charlayne, thank you for being on tonight.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you very having me on,
SHARPTON: You know, I know from being a teenager in New York and the civil
rights struggle going forward you were one of the first writers at "New
York Times" that really wrote about this movement. And for people to
really understand the weight and gravity of Nelson Mandela, they have to
understand what it was that he fought.
Give people a sense of what apartheid in South Africa was and then how
Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress was able to break this
gridlock of oppression and move this nation toward liberation.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Reverend Al, you know, I first went to South Africa in
1985 which was one of the darkest times in the country where the apartheid
regime, that is to fight minority regime, was just wreaking havoc on black
people in all of their townships. You know, the black people were
isolated. They lived in townships that could easily be surrounded by the
white and black, in that case, arms of the state. And this was a time when
people were being beaten. They were being executed in all kinds of
extralegal ways that we only learned about many years ago. With all kinds
of poisons that their scientists, one doctor was a heart specialist and he
was creating things that would give people -- make people die if they
smoked them or ate them, you know, that sort of really heinous kind of
approach to getting rid of the people in the liberation struggle. That was
Even I was approached by the police at one point and run out of the
township where I was trying to tell the story of some of the women who have
been severely beaten by the apartheid police because they thought they were
part of the Mandela movement or the general movement for liberation.
I went back in 1991-- 90 when Nelson Mandela was released and things were
still a little bit shaky, but there was anticipation that things were going
to change. And what needed to change was that you had a black majority who
as we in the south in the `60s before the civil rights movement was
triumphant, we, too, were second class citizens in our own country. And
that`s what gave me even as a journalist, it gave me greater respect for
the people who were fighting against that system. As a journalist, I had
to be even handed and fair if not objective.
And so, I talked to the people in -- who were fighting the black people
trying to keep them from becoming citizens. And they talked as our people
did. That they were god`s chosen people and that black people just weren`t
made to be first class citizens. So that was the fight that I covered
throughout those years.
SHARPTON: So here we are where you have citizens that are black, who the
majority of the country would no writes, anything could be done to them, no
right to vote, no right to redress and out of this builds over decades the
African National Congress, there were other movement to the left of them.
Others that were to the right of them. But the tenacity of this movement
led by Nelson Mandela who did 27 years in jail and transformed it into a
I was there as an election observer in `94, and to see those people lined
up, Charlayne, as you did, having the first time in their life the right to
vote, three days. People were standing for miles. And of course the
result was he became the president of the ruling party which became the
president of the nation.
But I don`t think people understand this is not just the guy who became the
first black president of South Africa. They literally changed a nation
where they`d been delegated to sub-human status to where they not only
could vote but became the president of the nation in a relatively short
period of time out any violence.
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, what I`d like to say about Nelson Mandela`s
leadership. because I heard the earlier conversations about when he was in
prison, and even in prison he was still fighting for everything that he
And while most of his party people were outside of the country, he began
negotiations with the regime to end apartheid even as a prisoner. So even
as a prisoner, he was leading the country. And taking the white minority
to a place that he needed them to get to, even while he was still behind
SHARPTON: I mean, it`s almost unimaginable for you to be a prisoner, be
emerge and negotiate with the powers of the government you`re under, and to
go back to your cell or quarters at night. And then to emerge with this
hopeful message of reconciliation and purpose. Let me show Nelson Mandela
as he addressed the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: Today w are entering a
new era for our country and its people. Today we celebrate not the victory
of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: He was always very measured, always one that resisted being
bombastic and boisterous. Not the victory of a party, but the victory of
all in South Africa. Always trying to reconcile. And the times I was
around him in private, you were certainly around him a lot more than I was,
Chrlayne, he always had this strange balance of humility and gravitas that
you just didn`t see in other people.
HUNTER-GAULT: Yes. But at the same time, you know, what I think we tend
to forget is that Nelson Mandela was a human being. I mean, he had all
these wonderful traits, but I remember one time when I told him after I had
interviewed F.W. De Clerk (ph), the former president of South Africa who
was about to hand over power, and I asked him what is it going to be like
to hand over power, to give up power? And he looked at me and he said a
liberation movement has never been able to govern. We`ll be back in power
in five years.
And when I saw Nelson Mandela a few days later and told him what de Clerk
said, that was the only time that I have ever seen Nelson Mandela really
get angry. He said why, when I was a prisoner I was telling that man what
to do. Why, of course he`s not going to be back in power. And then he
became the gentle giant that we all know him to be. But he had that steely
side of him that you didn`t see often, but you saw it every now and then.
SHARPTON: Now, what do you think? There`s going to be all kinds of
statements, accolades, analysis over the coming days and weeks. What do
you think he would have wanted to be remembered as in history? What do you
think he wanted his legacy to be, Charlayne?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I think he would want people to be the best that they
can be. I mean, to look at the kind of man he was and to emulate it but to
do it in their own spaces because that`s what he tried to do. He tried to
empower people, and that was where his humility came in, but also his
leadership as someone who embraced others. And so, I just hope that the
values that he embraced and transmitted are transcendent. And that black
people, white people, young people, old people, people of all, the global
neighborhood will look at his life and the things that he believed in and
will try to immolate that. And I think that would make him happy in
SHARPTON: You know, when he won the election, and I talked about
witnessing and then he was inaugurated, at his inaugural address, he talked
about healing. He talked about reconciliation. He did not talk about we
finally got the land that is ours and what we deserve. He raised it to
another level. Let me show some of that and get your reaction as to what
was going on at that time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANDELA: The time for the healing of the wounds has come. That was build
a society in which all South Africans both black and white will be able to
walk tall (INAUDIBLE) at peace with himself in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: Healing, reconciliation, why was that so important to him,
HUNTER-GAULT: Because I think that there was a great fear when the black
majority did come to power that the white minority especially the more
violently. And so, why there has been criticism about the approach that
Nelson Mandela took, at the same time, I think he is credited with helping
to avoid bloodshed and a civil war, by bringing in the people who were his
very impressers. And you know, you can debate whether or not he gave away
But the point is that even though South Africa today still has a long way
to go to be the dream that Mandela had for the country, there is very
little bloodshed of the kind that many though would happen once the black
majority came to power.
SHARPTON: Now, there was, and this is not often discussed, but there was
those to the left of him and those more nationalist than him that were
constantly attacking him and constantly pushing him for more or saying he
gave away too much. How did he deal with that balance? You talked about
De Clerk. How did he deal with the attacks from some of whom should have
been his own allies?
HUNTER-GAULT: Well, he dealt with them with magnanimity. I mean, he had
this dream, he had this vision, he had people, he put in place to help him
realize that dream. And I don`t know what he did behind closed doors,
although I`m told the Nelson Mandela we all see in public could be a
different Mandela when he was in negotiations. But he had that steely
character that I think behind closed doors could come out a little more
strongly than what you saw in public. Because in the end what you saw were
a group of people who marched with Mandela instead of in front of him.
And you didn`t hear all that bickering and the kind of disenchantment today
that you currently have with a young democracy, but he managed in his own
way to speak behind closed doors when we had to speak forcefully, but
always to put that conciliatory face before the public.
SHARPTON: Now, we - Charlayne, hold one minute. You`re hearing singing
and people that are celebrating t life of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
It is 1:00 in the morning. It is after 1:00 a.m. in the morning in South
Africa, but people are gathering not only outside of his house, but all
over South Africa celebrating the life of this great man, Nelson Mandela.
And as I said, I cannot put in words the impact that he had on the world
and the kind of feeling you would have around him and the few times I was.
Wyatt Tee Walker who chaired the board of my group, Mass Action Network,
was the first place he came when he came to Harlem and spoke at his church
came in Baptist Church when he was freed. And he always marveled at the
similarities in terms of being forgiving and reconciling that he had with
Dr. Martin Luther King. And that`s a picture of Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker,
Nelson Mandela, Reverend Jesse Jackson and I in the pulpit that day that
Nelson Mandela came to Harlem the first time after he had returned to this
country having been a prisoner.
And to be in his presence to talk with him and then later, of course, we
went to South Africa as election observers. To be their guide that I
marched to say free Mandela, this mixture of humility, this mixture of
greatness, it was very hard to describe how much it would impact you. And
to have the leaders and lions of the civil rights movement that I grew up
admiring and grew up finally and when I got old enough to work under in the
northern part, to really applaud and defer to him was awesome. Because in
many ways the ANC learned from the civil rights movement here, but the
giants of the movement here really, really exalted what Nelson Mandela had
done and what he represented because he became, he personified the very
change that he had come to represent universally.
And it was reminiscent of the stories I heard from Mrs. Coretta Scott King
often about her husband, he late Martin Luther King.
And joining me by phone is a hero of the civil rights movement, none closer
to Dr, King than him here in America, the former U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations and the former executive director of Dr. King`s SCLC, the
honorable Andrew Young.
Ambassador Young, thank you very being with us tonight.
ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS (via phone): Thank
you very much and God bless you. And this is really, you know, for African
folk and people of African descent, the going home is celebration, it`s not
a sad time. And if there`s anybody that can go home with a victory, it`s
certain, it is Nelson Mandela.
He was able to lead his people to triumph, a love over hate, forgiveness in
place of vengeance. And South Africa is a democratic free market economy
right now that`s still struggling, but there`s a spirit about that place
that always gets you going.
It`s not just Mandela. It`s the people. And as much as he was the leader
of that non-violent movement, he was also a product of strong, loving,
caring people that wanted to live together as brothers rather than perish
together as --
SHARPTON: Well, what will be his legacy, Ambassador Young?
YOUNG: His legacy will be the same as the celebration we celebrate now at
Christmas. Peace on earth and good will to all men, women, and children.
And he signified that, he exemplified it in his life. He broke down racial
and class barriers. He insisted on the highest values of human kind being
shared with all of God`s children. And he gave his life for it.
You know, there were a lot of people from -- there was a big group from
Atlanta that went over barriers (INAUDIBLE) got out of jail. There were
about 40 people that paved their own way to go out there. I don`t know
whether you remember James Orange --
SHARPTON: Yes, very well.
YOUNG: James took a delegation of old movement people and they took two-
way radios and they took computers and they computerized the voting rolls.
We sent ship loads of clothing and medical equipment. And there was a real
support of their movement by our movement.
When Dr. King won the Nobel Prize, the first statement he issued was issued
with chief (INAUDIBLE) who had won a Nobel Prize before him. And he was
the founder of ANC and Nelson Mandela`s predecessor. So, our movements go
way back, almost 75 years together.
SHARPTON: Hold one minute, Ambassador Young. I`m going to ask you to hold
Thank you Charlayne Hunter-Gault. I`m going to let you go. And I`m going
to hold Ambassador Young because joining us live from right outside of
Mandela`s house in Johannesburg, South Africa, is NBC`s Rohit Kachroo who`s
right outside of the Mandela home in South Africa.
What can you tell us is going on outside?
ROHIT KACHROO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Al, there is an incredible
crowd here. A gathering of perhaps a hundred people of all ages of black
and white. You know, a true representation of South Africa.
And One interesting observation perhaps, Al, is how young this crowd is. I
would estimate two-thirds of people who are less than 25-years-old. People
here who have no memory of the darkest days of apartheid, of racial
segregation in South Africa. But such is Nelson Mandela`s legacy that he
means exactly the same thing to the young teenagers who are gathering here
with flames singing songs from the history books, songs from the apartheid
struggle as he does to older people who lived through those years of racial
In the last hour here, we`ve seen a string of police vehicles going into
the house and family members.
SHARPTON: And Rohit, can you have your camera spare, kind of show us the
crowd as you`re describing this. Is there a way for them to get a shot of
KACHROO: Yes. Al, we`re doing that right now. And this is the scene.
You know, you can perhaps make out in the distance there the South African
flag, the flag of the rainbow nation. And earlier, they were singing the
national anthem, all 12 languages of that national anthem. You know, a
real musical representation of multi-colored South Africa.
I mean, you know, it`s very early in the morning here. People heard the
news late at night. I was just listening to local radio, and the
presenters there were saying they were Dee-Jaying in nightclubs with 21-
year-olds, and some of who were breaking down in tears when he cut the
music and said that Nelson Mandela, the first president of modern South
Africa had died.
And that is the mood of this nation. You know, there`s nothing shocking
about a 95-year-old man with serious respiratory problems dying at this
age. It was entirely predictable, but it was painful, nonetheless, to hear
this news in the last few hours for perhaps almost every South African.
You know, predictable but painful. And perhaps this, the most mournful day
in the history of modern South Africa.
SHARPTON: What do you think will be the response of Africans across the
continent? Because Nelson Mandela, and I`m going to ask Ambassador Young
this, what he did and what his movement did also changed the entire
continent and had ramifications all over the world.
KACHROO: That`s right. That is absolutely right. And he is pan African
figure. And you know, he is perhaps almost as loved in countries like
Kenya, you know in West Africa, even in north Africa as well as much as he
is here in South Africa.
But, you know, this is a global icon. There is perhaps no one like him
anywhere else in the world. The most revered man in the world, perhaps. A
figure who as you say, Al, already mourned not only here in South Africa
but right across Africa and right across the world.
SHARPTON: Ambassador Young, you worked a lot in Africa and still do. Give
us a sense of what his impact to the entire continent was.
All right. I think I`ve lost Mr. Young -- Ambassador Young for a minute.
Rohit, let me ask you. In terms of the president --
KACHROO: But the presenter was asking --
SHARPTON: Rohit, are you with me? Yes, Rohit.
The president of the United States said that the first political engagement
he ever had in life was involved in anti-apartheid demonstrations as a
college student. That`s the kind of impact he`s had globally. And it is
that generation that is now many of us in our 50s and older. But you`re
telling me there are people half our age and younger that are out there
that are celebrating his life tonight.
KACHROO: That`s absolutely right, Al. And one of the really fascinating
things about the reaction which is in its first few hours, the reaction to
Nelson Mandela`s death is the youth, the youth of this response. This is
an incredibly young country where the majority of people have no memory of
apartheid. It is something from the history books. It is something that
they learn about in school or from their parents, perhaps.
But President Obama put it incredibly well in that statement earlier. And
he used one of Nelson Mandela`s best known phrases when he said I fought
against white domination and fought against black domination, to say this
is not someone who was fighting purely against the apartheid regime, but
so, on he was fighting against racism per se right across the races.
He said when he came to power as president in 1994 that he didn`t want to
push the white man into the sea. And perhaps in part for that reason, that
is why he is so adored by people of all races. Yes, an icon for black
Africans, an icon, too, in a different way perhaps for millions of white
South Africans too. Because although there is a great deal of criticism
the way that this country have progressed, it is peaceful, it is
democratic, and it is stable. And no one in 1994 predicted that.
SHARPTON: All right. Well, we`re going to have a lot more.
Thank you, Rohit.
And we`re going to have a lot more on the breaking news of Nelson Mandela
dead at the age of 95, including President Obama`s connection to him.
Stay with us.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANDELA: I, Nelson Mandela, do hereby serve faithful to the republic to
the South Africa. So help me God.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: We are back. And that is the marquee at the Apollo theater.
The historic world famous Harlem theater where everyone of note has gone
and they have on the marquee in memory of Nelson Mandela 1928-2013. He
changed the world.
Joining me now is Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball."
Chris, let me first get your reaction to the death this great world leader.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, "HARDBALL": Well, Reverend Al, I was so
fortunate historically to be there in 1994 covering his election. The
first democratic election in South Africa that was brought about issue now
because of the comprehensive anti-apartheid act put forward by good people
like Bill Gray and Ron Dellums. And that`s one of the reasons they had
democracy in South Africa. And I was very fortunate to be there and watch
really something almost biblical Reverend where you can see people in an
open field from one horizon literally to another horizon waiting in line to
MATTHEWS: These are many poor people without -- they didn`t have a cup of
coffee or anything or place to go to the bathroom. They just waited
patiently, because that man we`re looking at right now told them democracy
was the way to go. Not a military overthrow or something like that with a
lot of killing and bloodshed. You know, I was in the Peace Core back in
the `60s -- right next door there. And a lot of us thought it was going to
eventually lead to that, you know, what? A big race war where everybody
getting killed. The whites killing millions. It was just a horrendous
And it turns out because Mandela`s commitment to democracy and gradual
change, then the deal he was able to strike with the clerk, they did it all
quite normally and naturally and democratically. And he did that. He sold
the people. Who could have overrun the whites, I suppose, at one point
potentially on doing it democratically. He really was a soulful, great
SHARPTON: Well, you know it what was amazing to me, I was also in South
Africa in `94. You there as a journalist, I was there as an activist who
was an election observer.
SHARPTON: And what was amazing to me is how Nelson Mandela in the ANC was
actually attacked by some of the forces on the left that wanted to be
violent, and he refused to do it. He really taught many of us around the
world that you had to become the change you sought. And he was able to
pull it off.
MATTHEWS: I think we`re going to miss him. And if there is a real tragedy
here besides from apartheid itself of course and his 28 years in prison, of
course, was he didn`t get back out into freedom and leadership at a younger
age. You know, he could have been more than he was even. He could have
been a true George Washington. He could have led that country to really
good government. And unfortunately he was just, he was freed so late in
life, he could only be a spiritual leader and a symbolic leader.
Not so much a governing official. You know what I mean? And he didn`t
have that vibrancy in power that he could have brought to the job in his
50s or 60s and really led that country for 10 or 20 years. But you know,
I`m still hopeful about that country, as you are reverend, that they can
make it work and they can keep a non-racial society. That`s what they
want, largely black of course, dominated by black political leaders, but a
country in which people can live together peacefully and productively.
SHARPTON: Now, you interviewed him.
SHARPTON: Which is much different than those of us that may have been
around him a little while from time to time. Or that those who knew him
well Harry Belafonte and others that were very closed with him.
SHARPTON: As a journalist, give me your feeling of interviewing a man of
this great historic proportion.
MATTHEWS: Well, this is so interesting because you know Reverend that our
position on South Africa was not always so great. We had constructive
engagement that was called under Reagan which means supporting the
apartheid government down there. And then gradually in the `80s, you had
the democratic majority and the Congress go over rag. And they over-rode
his veto and insisted on these sanctions against the white government down
there. But yet Obama didn`t say that. He didn`t say your country has had
a mixed record. He said that America was a great force, in fact the
world`s greatest force against apartheid which I thought was very generous
in his reading of history.
Of course he became great friends with our president, our liberal
presidents like Clinton and President Carter because of their record and
supporting a war against apartheid. But I also, so many of your friends of
course, I saw Will Smith there in one of those pictures and Harry Belafonte
of course. And there were was enough of us especially you and the people
that were activists to give our country a good name in that country as they
finally got their freedom. We were so lucky to make the change we made in
the `80s. Thanks again to the late Bill Gray of course and to Ron Dellums
because they took the lead.
SHARPTON: No doubt about it. Ron Dellums, Bill Gray, Randall Robinson.
But I think people don`t understand there were elements in this country
that actually as late as the mid-80s was still calling Nelson Mandela and
the ANC terrorists.
MATTHEWS: I know.
SHARPTON: And yet he came out with a very forgiving spirit and rose above
all of that.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I think there`s a lot of great leaders in South Africa.
We`ve lost some of them over the year, of course. And, you know -- come
back in the government at some point. There`s a lot of people down there
that I`d love to see get back into government and really develop a really
strong democratic tradition there. But you`re right. There were people
that, you know, Pat Buchanan and other people out there were saying, you
know, they liked it the way it was, basically. And of course, there
(INAUDIBLE) on Sullivan.
MATTHEWS: Who thought we could get there, you know, to the Sullivan roles
and try to make at least within a terrible system some basic rules. That
made it less egregious. You know that was going on. So there`s a lot of
people trying to -- Helen Suzman who was a liberal White South African
didn`t believe in sanctions. There was a lot of conflict about how was the
best. My personal view was, don`t grind them into the dust, there`ll just
be another basket case. So, we don`t need that economically. But hit them
hard with sanctions with a real punch so they`ll be shock had by it and
they would make a big historic decision which declared -- to his credit.
And they said this isn`t going to last. We`re going to turn it over to a
black majority. And that`s just the way it`s going to be and we better get
used to it and get used to it fast. I think he deserved credit for that.
The white leader.
SHARPTON: President Barack Obama released -- came out and made a statement
today at the White House. Saying that his first political act was to
participate in the anti-apartheid movement and what Nelson Mandela meant to
him. But before Nelson Mandela`s death was announced today, he spent over
an hour with you and college students in a rare, unprecedented interview in
town hall at American University. Tell us about it. It`s going to air
after the show tonight.
MATTHEWS: Well, some of it was the usual Reverend, some of it was the
usual kind of question you or I would put to him which is your concerns
about government effectiveness, have you been able to keep your prestige up
there with this difficult rollout, and how`s your government management
techniques going so far, and is there still trust in government. The usual
questions. But when he really came alive tonight and you`ll see tonight
during the 7:00 hour and on MSNBC is when he talked about -- when I asked
him what about you and the pope. Because the speech you gave yesterday on
economic justice, Mr. President, was so powerful and it was very much
resonant of what the holy father, the leader of the Catholic Church has
been saying over in Rome about economic justice and dealing with people in
poverty and getting out there and doing it and rubbing off the rough edges
And I`ll tell you, when you see him Reverend, you`ll say, this is the first
time he`s really gotten that heart out there. He`s kind of a distant
fellow, the president as you know. He really showed some heart. Howard
Fineman was there and he said afterwards, it was the first time he ever saw
any president talk about personally what it`s like to be president. In
other words, taking the hits and the brick bats every day. It was kind of
an interesting development when he turned to and maybe because he`s into
trouble with the polls right now, he`s starting to feel very -- as I said
about Nelson Mandela, a bit soulful about the situation he`s in. He has to
really fight for principle now. It`s not going to be simple politics.
SHARPTON: Do you get a sense that he is being combative or reflective? I
mean, he`s under a lot of attacks, a lot of pressure. What did you leave
with a sense of where his political gut is? His political gut is.
MATTHEWS: You know him. I mean, he`s not ferocious. He`s not a guy who
takes a punch at the other side very often. He pulls his punches. It
could be dispiriting to some of us but it`s his style. And what he did
seem to be was very reflective about the value fight that you`re always
engaged in. Looking out for people that nobody else looks out for. And
basically talking about the need for economic and social justice. He
really sounded like a really committed, you know, community leader tonight.
You`re going to hear him not as a politician but as a community leader and
someone who really wants to lead the charge as best he can. Given the fact
he`s up against this Republican House of Representatives that stands in his
way so often. But he is personal tonight. You`ll be amazed, because he is
a very cool guy as we say. He`s not cold. He`s just cool. He doesn`t
talk about his feelings much, but he did today. And I think it`s powerful
to see it tonight.
SHARPTON: Well, Chris Matthews, first of all, congratulations again on the
interview and thank you for coming on and sharing with us tonight.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.
SHARPTON: And he sure you watch Chris` interview with President Obama on a
special edition of "HARDBALL" airing next at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. And then
again at 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. Tune in. Stay with us.
We`ll have much, much more on the world`s reaction to the death of Nelson
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Your struggle, your
commitment, and your discipline has released me to stand before you today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: We`re back with more on the breaking news about the death of
Nelson Mandela who passed away earlier today at the age of 95. I want to
say the tributes are pouring in, and I want to read this one from Mohammed
Ali. Mohammed Ali says, quote, "He made us realize we are our brother`s
keeper and that our brothers come in all colors. Well, I will remember
most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit
could not be contained or restrained by economic racial and economic
injustices, metal bars, or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us
forgiveness on a grand scale. He was a spirit born free destined to soar
above the rainbows." Statement by Mohammed Ali.
I want to bring on NBC`s Ron Allen. He covered Nelson Mandela`s 1994
election, and he`s been back to South Africa five times since 2011. Thank
you Ron for being with me tonight.
You were there in `94. I was there as an observer, an activist. You as a
journalist. You in Durbin though, I was in the city of Johannesburg. Give
people a sense. Because I understand the greatness of Nelson Mandela. You
have to understand that moment. The African -- the Black African had never
been able to vote before in South Africa.
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Right.
SHARPTON: Give us a sense of what it was like in Durbin in the non-city
ALLEN: Right. This was a very rural area and we were beyond the city.
And there were polling places that were essentially huts. And it was a
very misty, foggy morning. And I can remember seeing these huts and these
lines that stretched for literally for miles.
ALLEN: And people stood there for hours and hours to exercise this right.
And though I often tell people out of all the things I`ve seen in my life
traveling the world for many, many years now, this moment is something that
I -- that always stays with me. It was just a powerful moment. It was
just something that growing up and learning about South Africa, you
probably never would have thought would have happened. So many people were
amazed that suddenly these people were going to vote. I moved to London in
the early `90s as a foreign correspondent and one of the first things I
want to do is get to South Africa. Because I`ve learned about this place,
as a child of the `50s and `60s in America.
And you have this feeling of exactly, what is going on over there? You
have this majority being oppressed in so many ways by this minority and I
was desperate to get there and I saw it in the early `90s. And I watched
it change now. And to some extent it`s really unbelievable that he has
passed. But he lives on and in so many ways in South Africa today. In a
spiritual sense. He was in so many ways the conscience of the nation. He
is in so many ways the standard by which every other leader and everything
that happens there is judged. And it all goes back to those days in the
early `90s when Mandela was released from prison and making his mark on the
country and again that moment when people were able to vote. A right that
people in this country take for granted. You have 40, 50 percent turnout,
there are lessons, some elections.
ALLEN: But there the turnout was very high as I recall.
SHARPTON: When you look at these photos, he has a photos of the actual
lines in 1994 that you and I saw personally there in South Africa. And
when you think of the fact that I talked to people, elderly ladies. I
remember talking to a lady who was there in her late 80s who I said you
can`t stand here another day. She`d been there for the second day. She
said we waited all our lives. We never were given the right to vote. This
is 1994. Now, again, we fight to maintain voting rights now with voter
I.D. and all. They had no right at all to vote until 1994 because of the
movement of ANC and Nelson Mandela.
ALLEN: And I remember talking to people who couldn`t read or write. There
was a lot of literacy in this part of the country. They couldn`t
understand but they had learned enough to go and exercise their right on a
ballot. And for this to happen, such a profound thing. I`m not sure
people really understand that. Because it`s been awhile. You know, we`re
coming up on the 20th anniversary in April of this moment.
ALLEN: And people are reflecting on -- South Africa is, how far it`s come.
But it`s really important to understand where this country came from and
where Nelson Mandela brought it from.
SHARPTON: In the pantheon of historic figures.
ALLEN: There`s no one else.
SHARPTON: Where would Mandela --
ALLEN: He has a unique position. It`s just impossible to compare him to
other people. Because what he did with the help of so many others of
course was so singular, so unique. And the way he did it, the dignity, the
strength, the compassion, the forgiveness, all those things. I had the
pleasure of meeting him briefly during the campaign in the early 90s. And
the thing I remember is how comfortable it was to be around him. He was
somebody who did not seem to be what he was.
SHARPTON: Wasn`t pretentious?
ALLEN: Not at all. And there are, you read about in a sort of -- he
talked to people who knew him well, he was a very -- he made his own bed
every day. There were stories about him going to luxury hotels and in New
York and the housekeepers coming in and saying, why did you make up your
own bed. But that`s how he was. These are habits that he acquired in
prison. He was a disciplined man. He was a purposeful man. So many
people talk about how in prison he was up every morning reading. Sitting
there with his legs extended to deal with the chill of Robben Island. But
he was about something and he told all the prisoners who came there, the
prisoners who came at the university, you have to be about something. You
have to leave here a better person than you came in. And there was no
doubt that they were leaving and that they were going to make a mark when
SHARPTON: Ron, stay with us. Much more when we come back.
SHARPTON: More now with our coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela.
Still with me is Ron Allen and joining us is Jonathan Alter, author and
MSNBC contributor, and James Peterson, professor at Lehigh University.
Jonathan, let me go to you first. You`ve covered President Obama
extensively. What kind of Mandela influence do you see in President Obama?
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Huge influence. As the president
himself said today in his statement. I believe that he said he would not
be who he was without Nelson Mandela. He followed him from an early age.
You may recall when the president was a student at Occidental College in
California, he took part in anti-apartheid demonstrations. He was a leader
on that issue and focused on it. But one of the things that is really
striking me tonight Rev is what can Americans learns? And American society
learn from the example of Nelson Mandela?
You know, I think back to during the civil rights movement, Mahatma Gandhi
was very influential in United States and on that movement, with his
principle of civil disobedience, and that helped to give the movement life.
So what is Mandela`s message? Well, today we`re hearing even very
conservative senators and other figures talking about the spirit of
forgiveness that he embodied in truth and reconciliation in South Africa.
So, my question tonight, Rev, is can we import that spirit of forgiveness
and apply it to the hundreds of thousands of people incarcerated who for
the rest of their lives, you know, will be stigmatized by this. Could we
figure out a way to forgive them, maybe expunge some of those records?
Release some Christmas -- with three strikes and you`re out, you have
people who have been there for so many years --
SHARPTON: So, you`re saying can we find ways in our memorializing Mandela
to really actualize it.
ALTER: Exactly. That`s the key.
SHARPTON: James Peterson, what can the president being influenced by
Nelson Mandela mean for us as a nation and us politically?
JAMES PETERSON, LEHIGH UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, Rev, I love all the stuff
you`ve been saying about Nelson Mandela and I love what Jonathan Alter just
said. And I hope people can hear that, because if you want to really talk
about how do you celebrate and commemorate the life of Mandela, then one of
the things you can do is take his prison narrative, his narrative of being
in prison for 27 years and remember he goes into prison as a terrorist.
Right? He is a terrorist in terms of how the South African government sees
And so, in order for us to understand how do we import that spirit like
Jonathan is saying is, you`ve got to take that narrative and think about
what was his mentality when he came out? To embrace those who imprisoned
him. To embrace those who oppressed and killed and maimed his people. I
mean, that level of consensus building, that level of commitment to love
and forgiveness is something that every nation, not just the United States,
every nation can love and grow from. As for the president of these United
States, one of the things I think that Mr. President Obama gets criticized
for so much especially from the left is that he`s too oriented towards
PETERSON: He`s too oriented towards consensus. And what you think about
what he borrows from Nelson Mandela, that is one of the ethics that he
borrows. He is more interested and pragmatics and compromise and consensus
than he is in partisanship. And sadly for the most of the duration of
President Obama`s term, most folk have not really been able to appreciate
that. Maybe in this moment where we honor the life and legacy of Nelson
Mandela, maybe people will see it more clearly.
SHARPTON: You know, Ron, in the statement that James made and the
challenge that Jonathan made, it brings to mind that we kind of, like, in
the span of time forget where we start with people. Nelson Mandela was
condemned, he was ostracized, he was called a terrorist, and now the whole
world is taking turns eulogizing, memorializing, and extolling him. The
shame would be that it just be the personal victory for him, because
clearly he earned that. But that he would want it to be a victory for what
he stood for and not that you just went from calling him a terrorist to
calling him the great statesman he became and will be always remembered as.
But do what I say. Emulate what I tried to teach.
ALLEN: Right. And understand that this didn`t happen miraculously. That
he was an individual, a human being, a man who lived a life and made this
happen. This didn`t just happen miraculously. When I think about
apartheid, I think how people were banned. And Mandela was banned for a
long time before he was even in prison. You couldn`t talk to people. You
couldn`t be in a room with more than one or two people. You had to stay in
certain places. Your image couldn`t be made public. And to live your life
like that for so long as Winnie Mandela and so many other black South
Africans did and then to be put into prison. And it`s just -- the story of
his life is just unbelievable when you really dig into what it was like on
a day-to-day basis and what he had to overcome to rise to that.
SHARPTON: Excellent point. Excellent point. Ron, James, and Jonathan,
thank you all for your time tonight. And let me say that Nelson Mandela
had a book come out after his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom." Rick
Stengel put out a book of leadership lessons and lessons that Mandela
taught. He taught about discipline, he thought about reconciliation, he
taught about what we need to do. And all that we hear in the coming days,
let us try to hear Mandela speak for Mandela. And let us try to be a
little more Mandela-like.
No, I think the president was right. We will not see another Nelson
Mandela. It`s not likely in our life time. But we can bring a little
Mandela in us and become better people in the spirit of Nelson Mandela.
Thanks for watching. I`m Al Sharpton. Up next is a special edition of
"HARDBALL." An exclusive interview with President Obama.
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