Nightly News   |  December 05, 2013

Tom Brokaw on Mandela’s release from prison

When Tom Brokaw sat down to interview Nelson Mandela after his prison release, “He looked like he had been on a three-day holiday,” Brokaw said, and was prepared to take his place in South Africa’s government. A truly great man, Mandela has changed not only his country but the perception of race and leadership. NBC’s Tom Brokaw reports.

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

>>> the marquee at the apollo theater in harlem where they changed the lettering outside in remembrance of nelson mandela after the word started to spread today of his death at the age of 95. as promised we are joined in studio by tom brokaw . after all, when you look at the public life and legacy of nelson mandela , you are fortunate enough so much of it happened on your watch. i was thinking today of our trip in '94 to cover his election as president. mostly american viewers were glued to live coverage in 1990 , the long walk to freedom.

>> i got a call on a tuesday morning from a friend of mine in the south african government that said you better come right away. i said i need more than that, it's a long way. he said, get on the plane. went there. didn't look like they would release him. remember, we hadn't seen him in 27 years. then he was released. we didn't know what he would look like. we had one black and white , grainy photograph. this is me in the backyard with him. it looked like a three-day holiday somewhere. a lot of people in prison with him said they used those years to talk with each other about their philosophy, their strategy once they did get out. so he was absolutely prepared now to take his place, not only in his government but on the world stage. we often talk about leaders have to wait for the history of judgment. he's a great man. he's changed not only his country but the perception of race, leadership and the philosophy of pulling together people who have been in contact with each other for more than a hundred years.

>> i know people who use the expression in a flip manner. you ask how they are doing and they say, beats breaking rocks in the hot sun. for part of his 27 years he broke rocks in the hot sun. never regained his vision.

>> one of the stories i heard is he was called from his cell one day by the warden. they watched him go, come back, go into his cell and lie down. not say anything for the next 12 hours. his son was killed that day. there was nothing he could do. there was no communication he could have with him. he went about the business of staying alive , surviving, staying in touch with his colleagues. when he came out, all he had to do was raise his hands and he could have started a race war , but he didn't. he served one term and said it's time for others to go on. he would come to new york often. he was the most gregarious, sociable guy you can imagine. he was here not long after bill clinton had difficulties with personal deportment and said, everybody could come down, keep moving in this country and the world.

>> we have lost a towering figure. thank you for helping us remember nelson mandela .

>> my pleasure. of all the things i got to do, being with hill the morning after is something i will never forget.