Meet the Press   |  December 08, 2013

1: Reflecting on Mandela's legacy

A special roundup of guests on Meet the Press reflect on the life and legacy of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela.

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

>>> this sunday, nelson madikizela-mandelman dedela. a special person whose world course changed world events.

>> he was a president that embodied that human beings and countries can change for the better.

>> his enduring power is that he showed us there is true freedom in forgiveness.

>> we'll look at mandela 's life, his policy, and how he handled criticism. it's all part of his enduring legacy. my guest, tom brokaw , civil rights leader reverend jesse jackson . and harry smith talks to poet maya angelou as she mourns a good friend.

>> and that's what he brought, was deliverance and ignorance.

>> i'll have all that ahead on "meet the press," sunday, december 8.

>>> the world 's longest running television program , this is "meet the press."

>>> and good sunday morning. it is a day of prayer and reflection in south africa as the nation mourns its former president, nelson mandela . flags are also at half staff at the white house this morning. president obama and the first lady will be going to south africa on tuesday. and former presidents jimmy carter and bill clinton will also be going to south africa this week. nelson mandela will be laid to rest this week. charlene hunter- gault who worked for npr during nelson mandela 's presidency, and from new york, special correspondent tom brokaw . here is tom back in 1990 interviewing nelson mandela after he was released from prison. it's a great photo. the reverend jesse jackson is here, one of the first people to greet mandela after he was released from prison. what a great day that was. we'll talk about it. and he wrote a book entitled " mandela 's way." and charles ogletree who marched for mandela 's freedom and subsequently met with him several times. welcome to all of you. it's a great privilege to have this conversation. i want to begin in south africa with charlene hunter- gault and have her set the scene with this national period of mourning and reflection and celebration. good morning, charlene .

>> reporter: right now, david, it is pouring down rain, and in south africa rain is a sign of good for tutune, so maybe it is in honor of mandela . up until this moment, people have been dancing in the streets, they've been singing songs, they've been recalling aspects of nelson mandela 's health, and we're near his house where i first interviewed him when he got out of prison. so this is not a sad time, even though there are tears she had from time to time, but south africa adored the world that mandela created, and they are celebrating his life in every possible way that you could think of, including dancing in the streets.

>> which is good to see. well, charlene , you'll be with us. it's kind of loud where you are and you'll be joining our conversation. tom brokaw , i want to talk about the man. it is unusual to speak of a major politician which, after all, is what he was, a revolutionary, a prisoner and a politician. but we speak of him in terms of personal virtue. they seem to loom largest.

>> it was a perfect combination of a man who has suffered, learned from his suffering and had a vision of what he wanted for his entire country, and then had that wonderful user-friendly personality in which everyone felt connected to him in some fashion. i've been thirnking a lot about him since his death, how it resonated not just in south africa but around the world . we are in need of someone with those qualities. the people who remember john kennedy , he was similar. remembering ronald reagan , he had a lot of the same qualities. at the center of those qualities was a strong vision about what they wanted that would be good for everyone.

>> and reverend jackson , you go back to that seminole moment in 1964 when he's on trial, that speech in the dock that mandela gave. he said, i have cher i should the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. it is an ideal for which i hope to live for and to see realized. but, my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which i am prepared to die.

>> well, he was shaped by persecution and internal will and dignity, and he did not internalize the system. to that extent, he was gracious because of victory. he won the battle over skin color apartheid and political right to vote and legal apartheid and national world opinion . he had a choice at that point to choose revenge or reconciliation. he chose reconciliation as a victor over that system.

>> we'll talk about reconciliation because it is a lasting legacy over his political life .

>> at that moment if he had chosen revenge, then you would have had a bloodshed. he chose to go forth by a kind of hope and not by fear. those are choices the man made.

>> rick stengel, we talk about some of these other choices. in prison -- and you've written about this -- that he would suppre suppress emotion. the incredible story tom was relating oert night with brian on nightly news, hearing about the death of his son. he's in prison. he's refused to go to his funeral. and he also had to live with the fact that his son never forgave him for basically putting his political career and the country in front of his own family.

>> i asked walter susulu, he was his mentor, and i said, walter, did he show any emotion? and he said, obviously i knew he had all this emotion, but he didn't show it. prison was a crucible that steeled him. he was a compassionate man, and prison just made him never show that emotion. i asked him, what is the difference between the man who went in and the man who came out? he said, i came out mature.

>> they bring in some south african journalist to try to demonstrate that, in fact, conditions there were more humane than people thought, and there was an image taken of mandela , and he refuses to speak to reporters. he is the stoic prisoner, always calculating about how he would be viewed on the outside and what his own leadership goals were.

>> that's exactly right. he was deteriorating in 27 years in prison, but he never showed that. he was a man of strength, of resolve, of faith. and he was not a bitter man, as reverend jackson said. he really wanted to make sure that people understood that he's paying the cost of freedom against apartheid, and he paid that cost for 27 years in prison. he died with some of the illnesses that he achieved -- occurred when he was in prison, but the reality is that this great man, 95 years old, left a legacy of struggle and freedom, and we have to follow that.

>> jesse jackson , describe the moment when he's released. what was that like for him?

>> we anticipated he would be set free soon, so i went to meet with mrs. thatcher and britain would not break from that system. america barely broke, so that was a high anticipation on how he would respond. he walked into the room at the back of the hall in cape town and said, freedom fighter , i was calling for god. he had been watching the campaigns on television, very current, very up to date, and was just warm, and in addition to the speech he gave, it must have been that he knew every name in the room and he came out with his feet on the ground. it was one of the biggest moments in his life.

>> tom, you interviewed him right after he had been released. we have a portion of that. i want to show that and have you reflect on it.

>> what did you most want to see in the outside world all those years that you were in prison?

>> a host of things. i can't even count them. the very question of being outside and being able to do what you like, to see the changes that have taken place, the changes that we have seen on television, we have listened to, you know, on the radio. even though they are not the basic changes that we demand, nevertheless, south africa has changed considerably from the time i went to jail, and i wanted to see those changes.

>> everyone agrees that prison did help shape him and mature him, and people who were there with him said the same thing. what was so striking to me when i first saw him, and reverend jackson and i talked about this earlier, the only image we had of him before he was released was that ancient black and white photograph when he was very militant, so when he stepped out, this tall, elegant man, completely composed, knowing the people that were in the room with him, completely at ease when we show up with our television cameras, which he had not had any exposure to, the sound man had one of those big boom microphones with a fuzzy thing over it for wind protection. and i said, you have to understand this is not a weapon, it's a microphone. and he said, i thought they were getting the shotguns out for me again. that's why we were laughing there. it's that quality he brought to the public stage. think about the lives that he had. he was shaped by the royalty of his tribal beginnings, then he became militant. he was a warrior who represented the poor. he goes to prison, comes out, and now he is being celebrated as one of the great leaders of the 20th century . i would hope other leaders, not just in africa, but around the world would take a lesson from all of this.

>> he leveraged his suffering and world a claim to bring down that system. he could have gotten out early on personal assurance. he used the world opinion to demand that apartheid end, that you could have the right to vote, that you could have the right to work. then he led the election. he didn't just leave, circumstances change. the freedom of that change with global opinion.

>> i was in college when he was freed, rick, and you have this sense, especially looking back historically, that he's released and all is well. and that was the opposite of actually what was the case. when chris hani was an anc leader, was murdered, that was a seminole moment. you talked about when then mandela goes to f.w. de klerk and says, you have to stop this or virtually everything will go off the rails.

>> and he went on television in south africa that night rather than de klerk ask showed that he was the father of the nation . as you know, i was with him when his father was murdered. we were in kuno, had just taken an early morning walk, the phone rang and he picked it up and got the news. he was on the phone for about 15 minutes , his expression never changed. he put down the phone and turned to me with a little ex aspiration and said, man, where is our porridge? he was so calm in a crisis and then he rose to that. he said that was when south africa was on the knife edge of a civil war . that was one of the most perilous moments of modern history . and he presided over the fact that they would repair themselves.

>> charlene gault is with us in south africa . i want to show over the years of how mandela was featured, and that international claim that reverend jackson spoke about over the years that was used so wisely as he was heralded for those political ends in that country.

>> reporter: are you asking me a question?

>> i was just talking about the international cclaim that he used, as reverend jackson suggested, toward great political ends in south africa . i just wanted to get you into the conversation.

>> reporter: oh, i see. yes, i was with him when he first got out of prison and then when he first came to the united states where there was just almost universal approval of him and everybody wanted to see him. but i think what we also have to remember, and i was reminded of this, i had a piece remembering him in the new yorker this week, and i was shocked at some of the awful comments that followed, so while we have a man who is almost universally loved, i think the lesson of his life tells us he spent 27 years in prison trying to bring about harmony and racial reconciliation, and i think that's what we need to be talking about today, what of his lessons and what of his fortitude and single-mindedness do we need to be embracing, because every now and then, there is a reminder that things aren't perfect. but i think this celebration of him is almost universal, but we still have some naysayers out there and i think we still have some people we have to work on.

>> charlene , that's a perfect segue to what i want to talk about when we come back after this commercial break . i thank you very much for your time this morning and we'll continue to watch your reporting from south africa . we'll come back with the rest of our group in just a minute on "meet the press." nelson mandela , the leadership lessons he taught. but also how he handled those moments of vulnerability in his personal life .