Meet the Press   |  December 08, 2013

Mandela's impact on American politics

A special group of Meet the Press guests looks back at the way the U.S. reacted to the initial revolution led by Nelson Mandela and how the movement affected the American political landscape.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> we're back from new york. the reverend al sharpton sheer. your book is out now called "the rejected stone." congratulations on that. i want to talk to the group about not really the other side of mandela , just his historical context. he celebrated in death, he celebrated in life, but there is a more divided view on mandela in the anc. senator kennedy on this program back in '86 talking about the push of economic sanctions against south africa when there was political disagreement about that, and indeed, reagan didn't agree. here was senator kennedy in '86.

>> what we're interested in doing is achieving the political objectives that desmond tutu has talked about, freeing mandela , freeing detainees. hopefully in the meantime we might get some international group who can go to south africa and look at the 8 to 10,000 detainees, some of whom have been reported beaten to death in the south african prisons.

>> tom, this was a different time. cold war is what holds sway over our views.

>> first of all, talk about south africa and the real consequences of apartheid. it was an unspeakable policy they had going. i was in south africa at that time, and an african who grew up in south africa , a person of color, had virtually no rights. not the sidewalk they walked on, certainly they couldn't vote. the law enforcement was directed right at them, the beatings that went on was certainly awful at that time. currently we had growing in the world the liberation movement . the soviet union collapsed in 1989 , we had the rise of poland, you had the velvet revolution going on czechoslovakia. china was beginning to change but they had economic movement like never before, so south africa was really at the tail end of liberating people, not only people of color . that gave idea to nelson mandela stepping out on the stage and being who he was. he just didn't measure up, he exceeded everyone's expectations.

>> paul gigoe, for a lot of conservatives at the time, including the reagan administration , they looked somewhat skance at mandela .

you wrote the following: the bulk of his adult life, nelson mandela was a failed marxist revolutionary and leftist icon. then in his seventies, he had the chance to govern. he chose national reconciliation over reprizal. but it was that formal piece.

>> it was before the communist berlin wall fell, and we were still in a cold war . and there was that debate over communism and there were people within the african national congress who were communists and were associated with the soviet union . and that is the context in which the debate here unfolded at that time. but in the end, i think, that doesn't diminish mandela 's legacy, that enhances it, because he transcended that when he left, when he got out of jail, and what could have been a bloody revolutionary scenario which sank in with so many revolutions after the cold war , it did not because of his leadership.

>> there was this debate, and certainly so many americans were part of it who were protesting on college campuses saying this is the pressure that must be brought to bear. we have this in the modern context with iran. why is iran negotiating about nuclear weapons? because they're in such economic turmoil. but this was not a unified view between left and right about how to presssouth africa.

>> there was a real battle in this country. so when rand robinson and maxine waters and reverend jackson led that fight, as tom knows, i grew up a student of them. they were attacked for supporting communism. let's remember, the anc that he refers to, they were pursuing freedom. many of the communist nations embraced them, this country did not. it was not like they were born marxist, they were born people seeking to be free. some of the marxist nation either genuinely or in a self-interest way tried to embrace that. this country did not and fought that and denounced them and denigrated them. and i think for us now to sugarcoat that is a betrayal of history. we chose sides. we chose the wrong side. people in this country turned us around toward the right side. that set the stage for mandela to evolve. but if you're drowning and someone throws you your raft to get out, you don't call them a rafter, you call yourself the one that's trying to stop from drowning. those are the ones that threw the raft in south africa for freedom fighters .