Meet the Press   |  December 08, 2013

3: The international impact of Nelson Mandela

A special group of Meet the Press guests looks at the impact Nelson Mandela had on the United States and around the world.

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

>>> "meet the press" is back with our political roundtable. here this morning, tom brokaw , al sharpton , paul gigoe and katty kay . now, david gregory .

>> 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 .

>> i think you have to put the african national liberation movements in the global context of the struggle against communism. as the reverend said, they were supported by the soviet union , they were funded by the soviet union , they were one of the fault lines in the cold war . and there was a real fear in this country and in great britain. margaret thatcher also opposed sanctions in south africa , that you could lose southern africa and go to mozambique, and they would all lose parts of the nation. and all we knew about mandela before he went into prison was that he had joined the communists at one point, that he had been the leader in the violent struggle against the apartheid regime. and the real genius , political genius of mandela was that he came out of prison and saw that the policies he had espoused before he sbiwent into prison were no longer effective.

>> everyone agreed that apartheid was odious. the agreement was how best to pursue the breakdown. after the sanctions debate, president reagan picked an ambassador, edward perkins to south africa , who was a black american , who arg uld fued for the release of mandela . and, in fact, he may have had significant influence in releasing him.

>> but let's be clear, reagan vetoed -- supported veto on bills, reagan denounced mandela , called him names. he evolved after a protest movement here turned the tone and public opinion. but let's not act like reagan was a major supporter of mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. it's just not true.

>> this came up in 2000 when dick cheney was nominated to be the vice presidential candidate . and he was asked on this program by tim russert about opposing even a resolution to call for mandela 's being freed. this is what cheney said then.

>> well, certainly i would have loved to have nelson mandela released. i don't know anybody who was sffor keeping him in prison. again, this was a resolution of the american congress , so it wasn't as though if we passed it he was going to be let out of prison. it had another provision. it required the recognition of the anc , which at the time advocated violence in south africa . my recollection is the reagan administration opposed it and i supported the administration.

>> tom?

>> everything was happening at warp speed . that's one of the things you have to remember. we were going from the pitch cold war to these extraordinary changes that were going on not just behind the soviet union but in the satellite states as well. then in south africa , you had the additional pressure, as reverend sharpton points out, that grew really in a generational way in this country. the college campuses were critically important about what was going on. so that was beginning to rise. and the reagan administration obviously had a very strong anti-communist line, and you see that reflected in what former vice president dick cheney is talking about. so it's very hard to say in a kind of physics formula way, x minus y and you're going to end up with z. because it was very dynamic in terms of the situation. reagan eventually did begin to talk about constructive engagement. at the united nation he said it was time for mandela to be released. but was he enthusiastic about it when he first took office? not by any stretch. but there was a lot about what we didn't know about what was likely to happen. certainly what i always think doesn't get enough attention, frankly, is the impact that mandela had on his captors, on f.w. de klerk who decided to release him. he knew it was going to be in the best long-term interest of the country. no one admired mandela more at the end of their relationship than f.w. de klerk did. he saw the kind of man they were dealing with and the interest he had for their country.

>> we're going to take another break here. the roundtable will be back. but first, she said our planet has lost a friend. our harry smith talks with author and poet maya angelou about her enduring friendship with the inspirational leader.

>> i thank him for coming, we thank him for teaching us, and we thank him