IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dec. 8: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Tom Brokaw, Jesse Jackson, Richard Stengel, Charles Ogletree, Al Sharpton, Katty Kay, Paul Gigot, Harry Smith

MR. DAVID GREGORY:  This Sunday, Nelson Mandela.  A special MEET THE PRESS in-depth look at a world leader who’s courage and determination changed the course of world events.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:  His enduring power is that he showed us that there is true freedom and forgiveness.

GREGORY:  We’ll look at Mandela’s life, his affect on U.S. politics and policy and how he handled controversies and criticism.  It's all part of his enduring legacy.  Among my guests today, my colleague, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw; Civil Rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson; and NBC News correspondent Harry Smith talks to author and poet Maya Angelou as she mourns a good friend.

DR. MAYA ANGELOU:  And that's what it-- he’s brought, is deliverance from ignorance.

GREGORY:  I’m David Gregory.  All of that ahead on MEET THE PRESS from New York this morning, Sunday, December 8th.

ANNOUNCER:  From NBC News world headquarters in New York, the world's longest running television program, this is MEET THE PRESS.

GREGORY:  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 in the nation’s capital this morning.  President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama will head to South Africa for memorial service on Tuesday.  They’ll be joined on Air Force One, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Jimmy Carter will also hel-- head to South Africa this week.  Mandela will be laid to rest in his ancestral village of Qunu next Sunday.  And joining me now, five special guests, all of whom have spent time with Nelson Mandela.  From South Africa is NBC News correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault who worked as chief Africa correspondent for NPR during Nelson Mandela's presidency; and here in New York with me is NBC News 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.  And what a great day that was.  We'll talk about it.  As well as Rick Stengel, who spent two years collaborating with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and also wrote a book about him entitled Mandela's Way.  And joining the conversation from Boston is Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree who marched for Nelson Mandela's freedom and subsequently met with him several times.  Welcome to all of you.  It’s a-- it's a great privilege to have you all to have this conversation.  I want to begin in South Africa with Charlayne Hunter-Gault and have her set the scene for what is this national period of mourning and reflection and celebration.  Charlayne.

MS. CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT (Special Correspondent, NBC News):  Well, right now, David, it is pouring down rain, and in South Africa rain is a sign of good fortune.  So maybe it’s 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 house; and we're actually positioned right across from his house where I first interviewed him just a few days after he got out of prison.  So this is not a sad time, although there are tears being shed from time to time, but South Africans adore 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.

GREGORY:  Which is good to see.  Well, Charlayne, 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.

MR. TOM BROKAW (Special Correspondent, NBC News):  Well, it was a perfect combination of a man who has suffered, learned from his suffering, had a vision about what he wanted for his entire country, and then had that wonderful user-friendly personality and which everyone felt connected to him in some fashion.  I've been thinking a lot about this since his death how it’s resonated not just in South Africa but around the world.  And I think there is a longing now for people who have those kinds of qualities.  We’ve just been through the anniversary of John F. Kennedy, a lot of that came into play then.  The people who remember Ronald Reagan remember a lot of those same qualities.  These are men who had different views of the world but they brought special qualities to the job and at the center of those qualities was a strong vision about what they wanted that would be good for everyone.

GREGORY:  And Reverend Jackson, you go back to that-- that seminal moment in 1964 when he's on trial and that speech in the dock that Nelson Mandela gave.  And-- and the key portion of it, we’ll put on the screen.  He says, “I have cherished 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.”

REV. JESSE JACKSON (Civil Rights Leader):  Well, he was shaped by persecution and internal will to dignity, and he will not allow the system to-- he did not internalize the system.  And 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 international world opinion.  He had a choice at that point to choose revenge or reconciliation.  He chose reconciliation as a victor over that system.

GREGORY:  And we'll talk more about reconciliation because it is the lasting legacy of his political life.  Rick Stengel…

REV. JACKSON:  Well, that’s a choice he made.

GREGORY:  Yes.  Yeah.

REV. JACKSON:  Because-- because at that moment if he had gone-- if he’d 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.

GREGORY:  Mm-Hm.  Mm-Hm.  Rick Stengel, we-- we talk about some of these other choices that he in prison, and you-- and you've written about this that he would suppress emotion.  The-- the-- the incredible story that Tom was relating the other night with Brian on NIGHTLY NEWS, hearing about the death of his first son.  He's in prison, he's refused to go to his funeral, and he also has to live with the fact that his son never forgave him for basically putting his political career and putting the country before his own family.

MR. RICHARD STENGEL (Former TIME Managing Editor/Author, Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage):  Mm-Hm.  You know, I asked Walter Sisulu about that.  Walter Sisulu was his mentor.  And Walter was the only person who talked to Mandela after he found out that his son had died in prison.  And I said, Walter, did he show any emotion?  And he said, well, obviously, I knew that he had all of this emotion, but he didn't show it.  Prison was a crucible that steeled him.  He was a tempestuous, compassionate man who went into prison.  And prison just molded him and forced him not to show any of that emotion.  And the man who emerged was a different man.  I always used to say to him what’s the difference between the fellow who came out and the fellow who went in?  And he said, I came out mature.

GREGORY:  It’s interesting-- Charles Ogletree is with us in Boston.  There was the-- the image of, I-- I guess, fairly early on in the time he’s in prison, they bring in some South African journalists to try to demonstrate that, in fact, conditions there were more humane than people might have thought, and there was an image taken of Mandela, and he refuses to speak to any reporters.  He is this stoic prisoner, always calculating about how he’d be viewed on-- on the outside and-- and what his own leadership goals were.

MR. CHARLES OGLETREE (Professor, Harvard Law School/Founder, Charles Hamilton Institute for Race and Justice):  That's exactly right.  And 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-- 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.

GREGORY:  Jesse Jackson, describe the moment when he's released.  What was that like for him?

REV. JACKSON:  We anticipated he would be set free.  So I went to meet with Mrs. Thatcher and Britain still was not break all from that system.  America had barely broken and so there was this high anticipation on how would he respond (Unintelligible) Britain and then the U.S. as well as the (Unintelligible).  And he walked in-- into the room at the back of-- through the hall in Cape Town.  And he said, freedom fighter, Jesse my boy.  I was calling for God.  He had been watching the ’84/’88 campaigns on television, very current, very up to date, and was just warm.  And in addition to the-- the speech he gave, he-- it must have been fit to people in the room.  He knew everybody almost by name.  He came up with his feet on the ground.  It was one of those huge and big moments in one’s life.

GREGORY:  And Tom, you interviewed him not long after he had been released.  And we have a portion of that I want to show and have you reflect on it.

(Videotape; April 14, 1990)

MR. BROKAW:  What did you most want to see in the outside world all those years that you were in prison?

MR. NELSON MANDELA:  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-- they are not the basic-- the basic changes that we demand, nevertheless, South Africa, you know, has changed considerably from the time I went to jail, and I wanted to see these changes.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  And there he was…

MR. BROKAW:  Everyone here agrees that prison did help shape him and mature him, as he said, and people who were there with him said the same thing.  What was so striking to me when I first saw him, and I’m sure that Reverend Jackson and I talked about this earlier, the only image that we had of him before he was released was that ancient black and white photograph when he was very militant.  And 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, Mister Mandela, you have to understand this is not a weapon, it's a microphone.  And he said, oh, I thought they were getting the shotguns out for me again.  And-- and then we both-- that's why we were laughing there.  So it's that quality that he brought to the public stage.  You think about the lives that he had.  You know, he was shaped by the royalty of his tribal beginnings, then he became militant.  He was a lawyer 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.

GREGORY:  It’s interesting…

REV. JACKSON:  But-- but he leveraged his suffering and-- and (Cross talk) bring down that system.


REV. JACKSON:  I mean, he-- he could have gotten out of jail early on (Unintelligible) terms.

GREGORY:  That’s right.

REV. JACKSON: So the militants really did not leave, he used the world opinion to demand that the apartheid end, that the passbooks end, that you could have the right to vote, that you could have the right to work.  And then he-- he led the ground for an election, for a free and fair democratic election.  So the militants didn’t leave, circumstances changed.  We actually, I repeat, defeated that system with global opinion.

GREGORY:  It’s important to remember, though, and I-- I put myself in this for a younger generation-- I was in college when he was freed Rick that you have this sense especially looking back historically is, 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 seminal moment.  And you’ve talked about that when then Mandela goes to President de Klerk-- F. W. de Klerk and says, you have to stop this or basically everything will go off the rails.

MR. STENGEL:  And he went on television in South Africa that night rather than de Klerk and showed that he was the father of the nation.  As you know, I was with him when he found out that Chris Hani was murdered.  We were in Qunu in his house.  We had just taken an early morning walk, phone-- we were waiting for breakfast.  The phone rang, he picked it up and he got the news.  He was on the phone for about 15 minutes, his expression never changed.  He put down the phone, he turned to me and with a little bit of exasperation he said, man, where is our porridge?  He was so calm in a crisis and then-- and then he rose to that.  And he said later on that was when South Africa was on the knife-edge of a civil war right then.  That was one of the most perilous moment in their modern history.  And he presided over the fact that they-- that they did-- that they repair themselves.

GREGORY:  Let-- let me hear from Charlayne Hunter-Gault who is with us in-- in South Africa.  Charlayne, as I-- as I bring you back in, I also want to show our viewers the-- the images with respect to Rick Stengel of TIME magazine over the years of how Mandela was featured, and that international acclaim that Reverend Jackson spoke about over the years that was used so wisely as he was heralded for those political ends in-- in that country.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT:  Are you asking me a question?

GREGORY:  I-- I was just talking about the international acclaim that was-- that-- that he used, as Reverend Jackson su-- suggested, toward such great political ends in South Africa.  I just wanted to get you into the conversation.

MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Oh, I see.  Well, yes, I mean, you know, 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 of-- of-- 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 that 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.

GREGORY:  Charlayne, thank you.  It’s a perfect segue to what I want to talk about when we come back after this commercial break.  I’m going to thank you for your time very much 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 here on MEET THE PRESS.  Nelson Mandela, the leadership’s lessons he taught, but also how he handled those moments of vulnerability in his personal life.

MR. NELSON MANDELA:  Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you appreciate the pain I have gone through.


GREGORY:  We're back from New York this morning on MEET THE PRESS talking about the legacy and the lessons of Nelson Mandela.  Charles Ogletree who is in Boston with us this morning-- Professor, the modern influence that he has had-- you think about President Obama who meets him, and we have the pictures of it back in 2005.  He's still a Senator.  And Mandela had been encouraged to meet with this rising star in the Democratic Party.  And this was their only meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington.  The president reflecting on the life and times of Mandela from the White House on Thursday.

(Videotape; Thursday)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  I'm one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life.  My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  And it's interesting, he being too young for the Civil Rights era, Reverend Jackson, but first to Charles Ogletree, this was the connection point was apartheid.  This was that inspiration Nelson Mandela, who he could experience real time, the joy of that deliverance real time.

MR. OGLETREE:  That's exactly right.  I was a student at Stanford when I watched him or heard the movement about divestment from South Africa in 1972.  And back in ‘71, Barack Obama was only ten years old, so he was very young and not able to appreciate that.  What I want to make clear, though, we shouldn't call him militant, we shouldn't call him a terrorist, he's a patriot.  He's just like the patriots fighting here many, many centuries ago for equality.  And that's what he was.  He is a patriot who tried to make sure that his country where he was born, where he controlled, would recognize the fact that the majority of people who were African were suppressed by the minority of people who were white, and that has to be changed.  That he is a patriot who did a great deal in his 27 years in prison and did a great deal as a president and continues to have that legacy as a patriot.  I am a South African.  I am an African, as he said when he got his honorary degree from Harvard in 1998.  That became a watershed moment of him recognizing who he was, what he was and who he's speaking for.

GREGORY:  But to all of you here in New York, it wasn't just that personal grace that allows him to say, I want to make a decision to forgive as Reverend you said after he had succeeded.  But there is a great deal of political pressure not to, quote, unquote, “sell out” to the national government at the time which he had to resist to say, no, I've got a long view here where I see this going and I have got to reassure whites as well.

REV. JACKSON:  Well, you cannot really separate his career from Doctor King's career.  We were able to end apartheid so much like in South Africa, back in 1965, as the right vote.  For almost 30 years we had a lead jump on that right to vote and used that vote to empower our allies in South Africa going against our own government's policy after all with the U.S. partnership and Britain with South Africa to help prop that system up.  Yet he came out with seeing what his options were, and he knew that forgiving and redeeming had more value than retaliation and revenge.  Of course, it was the next step.  And even today, while we won the apartheid battle against skin apartheid, the surface level, and political right to vote, the apartheid remains; the apartheid gaps in poverty and health care and education, like they are-- we're in the middle of the end of apartheid struggle even now.  It's just changed phases.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, I think one of the things that has to be learned and politically I think is a very relevant point that Professor Ogletree makes about him being a patriot.  He set the foundation for what he later became and it was a much different world then than it is now.  The great Cold War was on at that time and the South African government was aligned with the United States.  And people who were seeing that struggle were seeing South African government as an ally of the United States and not paying enough attention to the big human rights issues.  But the big issue going forward now is President Zuma in South Africa and does he get the lessons from the life and the leadership of President Mandela and the other leaders in Africa.  And not just in that continent but around the world that they can take something away from that.  There are not going to be a lot of people dancing in the streets because they're mourning the loss of Mugabe, for example, next door, in Zimbabwe.  But I would hope that the lesson that this week will mean and the days that come is that people will see the real value of the kind of leadership that was not self-centered and it was not based on division but on unification.

MR. STENGEL:  I-- I do want to chime in on this.  He-- there was a great difference between Nelson Mandela and Doctor King, which I'll get to in one second.  Our two countries were going on divergent paths.  Apartheid is not that old.  It came in in 1948 with the National Party.  At the same time, America was moving towards Civil Rights, towards the Brown versus Board of Education was a few years later.  He realized that South Africa was on the wrong side of history.  But he also realized that he had to-- when he came out, he had to repair the breach.  Part of the reason that he never showed his bitterness, which he did have, was that he knew he had to reconcile white and black for a new South Africa.  The white's business center was the engine of prosperity for Africa.  South Africa could not survive without them, he knew that.  And that was one reason that he never showed the anger or bitterness that he did in fact have.

REV. JACKSON:  Well in 18- 1896 apartheid decision here laid the ground for the 1940 the apartheid decision there.  We called it segregation, they called it apartheid.  It’s the same system and the same political and military-- and diplomatic players that we had to fight that same system running parallel-- Doctor King and Mandela both were jailed in ‘63.  Mandela stayed in jail, Doctor King got out.  We got the right to vote.  And ultimately it was the Black Caucus led by at that point Ron Dellums (Unintelligible) to declare sanctions very reluctantly against-- against that system.  But the impetus to free that system came from the Civil Rights struggle on government policy.  And the thing-- and the thing, David, that he got off the terrorists list in 19-- in-- in 2008-- I mean, think about that.  He-- out of jail in 19…

GREGORY:  He had sort of lingered there.

REV. JACKSON:  He got off the terrorists list by George Bush (Unintelligible) in 2008.

GREGORY:  Yeah.  Professor Ogletree, final point here before we take a break.  We talk about the Mandela legacy and he's often compared, as we said, to Doctor King, to Gandhi but unlike those two-- those two were killed much earlier in their lives before they could see the fruits of that struggle.  Mandela stands alone in that regard, doesn't he?

MR. OGLETREE:  In-- in many respects but let me just say this, I think it makes sense, David.  When you think about Gandhi, both Mandela and King learned from-- from Gandhi, his whole commitment as a lawyer to non-violence and that became King's legacy in his short 39 years of life that became Nelson Mandela’s legacy in his 95 years of life.  And the reality is that-- we see the reality is that King freed a nation-- Doctor-- Reverend Jackson talked about some of those ‘64 Civil Rights Act, the ‘65 Voting Rights Act, Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court in ‘67, the ‘68 Public Accommodations Act and Fair Housing Act.  The world changed and South Africa changed with it.  And I think that we have to continue to, in a sense, lift this great man up…

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. OGLETREE:  … for what he's done and what we'll do in the 21st century.

GREGORY:  Quick-- quick point, Rick.

MR. STENGEL:  I just want to say he-- he drew a distinction between King and Gandhi and himself.  What he said to me once was he said for King and Gandhi, non-violence was a principle.  For me it was only a tactic.  A few years later he started Umkhonto We Sizwe which was the military wing of the ANC because non-violence wasn't working for the ANC.  That’s a big distinction.

GREGORY:  All right.

REV. JACKSON:  Because of visions-- let me just say quickly, when we last met two years ago, I asked him about Liliesleaf when they-- when they caught-- captured him, and I said, explain.  He said, well, actually, I think I'm kind of glad I got arrested at that point.  I said, why?  He said, we've been targeting installations.  We were about to target hospitals and schools.  I would rather spend 27 years in jail than have the blood on my hands of innocent children in that school and then hospital.  I mean to me that became the soul of the man coming out in a very, very critical crucible.

GREGORY:  All right.  Reverend Jackson, thank you.  Rick Stengel, thank you as well.  Professor Ogletree, my thanks.  Tom, you'll stick with us here.  We have more MEET THE PRESS coming up.  How Mandela affected politics in the U.S.  Our roundtable looks at the fight to end apartheid and how he became a divisive figure particularly the African National Congress in Washington during the efforts to force his release from prison after this.

(Videotape; July 27, 1986)

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-Massachusetts):  What we're interested in doing is achieving the political objectives that Bishop Desmond Tutu has talked about--freeing Nelson Mandela…

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Our roundtable; Tom Brokaw, the BBC’s Katty Kay, Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal and the Reverend Al Sharpton will be here right after this.


GREGORY:  We're back with our special MEET THE PRESS in-depth look at Nelson Mandela.  The question I’ve heard most this week since Mandela’s death is, what his example could teach Washington?  Throughout his life, Mandela refused to be consumed by hatred and insisted on working toward a common purpose with his political foes.  That, seems to me, is what is missing from this era of argument in Washington.  President Obama eulogized Mandela late Thursday afternoon, describing how Mandela inspired his own political awakening.

(Videotape; Thursday)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  The day he was released from prison, he gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  And the election of our 44th president was similarly an example of how countries can overcome their past.  Yet, President Obama has struggled since he made history.  He still aspires to achieve political consensus on some of the country’s most pressing challenges.  Mandela also faced obstacles.  And while Obama only met the South African leader once, Mister Obama clearly understands the meaning of Mandela.

I was in college when Mandela was freed from prison.  In 1990, I traveled to Oakland to see him during his visit to the U.S. on a victory tour, of sorts.  He thanked the tens of thousands gathered in the hot sun of the Oakland Coliseum for their support in toppling South Africa’s white racist regime.  The pure joy felt throughout the crowd as he spoke is what I will always remember.

At a time of such deep distrust in government, I welcome this moment to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela as a figure who can inspire human beings to be better people.  He exuded patience, principle, and pragmatism as a politician; as well as grace as a person.  Even after so much had been taken from him, he kept his heart open and changed the world.

Up next here, more on Mandela and his relationship with the U.S. with our political roundtable after this short break.


ANNOUNCER:  MEET THE PRESS is back with our political roundtable.  Here this morning: Tom Brokaw, Al Sharpton, Paul Gigot, and Katty Kay.  Now, David Gregory.

GREGORY:  And we’re back from New York.  The Reverend Al Sharpton is here.  Your book is out now, it’s called “The Rejected Stone.”  Congratulations for that and happy to have you here.  I want to talk a little bit with the group about-- it’s not really the other side of Mandela, it’s just historical context.  He’s celebrated in death, celebrated in life; but there was also in terms of his impact on Washington, a more divided view on Mandela and the ANC.  Senator Kennedy on this program back in 1986 talking about the push for economic sanctions-- sanctions against South Africa when there was political disagreement about that; and indeed, Reagan didn't agree.  Here was Senator Kennedy in ’86.

(Videotape; July 27, 1986)

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-Massachusetts):  What we’re interested in doing is achieving the political objectives that Bishop Desmond Tutu has talked about: freeing Nelson Mandela, freeing the detainees.  Hopefully in the meantime, we might get some international group that can go to South Africa and look at the eight to 10,000 detainees, some of whom have been reported beaten to death in the South African prisons.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Tom, this was a different time.  Cold War is what holds sway over our views.

MR. BROKAW:  Well, few things.  First of all, talk about South Africa and the real consequences of apartheid.  It was an unspeakable policy that they had going.  I was in South Africa at that time, and an African-Ameri-- an African who grew up in South Africa, a person of color, had virtually no rights.  Not even on the sidewalks that they could walk on, certainly they couldn’t vote.  The law enforcement was directed right at them, the beatings that went on.  It was worse than anything that happened in the American South during that time.  Concurrently, we had growing in the world, this liberation movement.  The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.  We had the rise ofLech Walesa inPoland, you had Václav Havel and the Velvet Revolution going on in Czechoslovakia.  China was beginning to change-- imperfectly-- but they had economic freedom that they had before.  So South Africa was really at the tail end of history’s big sweeping movement to liberate people-- not just people of color, but to give them economic freedom.  And that played into the idea of Nelson Mandela stepping onto the stage and being who he was.  He not-- he just didn’t measure up, he exceeded everyone’s expectations.

GREGORY:  Paul Gigot, for a lot of conservatives at the time, including the Reagan administration, they looked somewhat askance at Mandela but mostly at the African National Congress.  You write in The Wall Street Journal editorial on Friday the following: “The bulk of his adult life, Nelson Mandela was a failed Marxist revolutionary and leftist icon, the Che Guevara of Africa.  Then in his seventies, he had the chance to govern.  He chose national reconciliation-- meaning the ’90s-- he chose national reconciliation over reprisal, and he thus made himself an historic and all too rare example of a wise revolutionary leader.”  But it was that former piece that really had conservatives worried.

MR. PAUL GIGOT (Editorial Page Editor, Wall Street Journal):  Well, I think you have to understand the debate at the time in the ’80s.  It was before the-- communist-- the Berlin Wall fell.  And-- and we were still in the 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-- 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 has happened in with so many places with communist revolutions in the decades after the-- after World War II, did not.  And it did not, in great part, because of his leadership.

GREGORY:  But there was this debate, and certainly so many Americans were part of it who were protesting on college campuses trying to get colleges to divest.  They say this is the pressure that must be brought to bear.  I mean, 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 pressure South Africa.

REV. AL SHARPTON (Founder and President, National Action Network/Host, MSNBC's Politics Nation):  I think that it is a betrayal of history to act as though-- as Nelson Mandela evolved, the world and braced it.  There was a real battle in this country.  So when Rand Robinson and-- and Maxine Waters and Reverend Jackson and others led that fight, I was-- as Tom knows, I grew up a-- a student of their-- it-- it was major contention.  They were attacked for supporting communists.

GREGORY:  Right.

REV. SHARPTON:  Let’s remember, the ANC that he refers to, they were pursuing freedom.  Many of the communist nations embraced them, this country did not.  So 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-- in-- in-- in-- in-- 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 that 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-- 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.

MS. KATTY KAY (Anchor, BBC World News America):  I-- I think you have to put the African National Liberation Movement in the global context of the struggle against communism.  And 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 against South Africa-- that you could lose Southern Africa and go to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa; they would all fall to become proxy states of the Soviet Union.  And that was part of what drove the desire not to have sanctions.  And that was, of course, about Mandela all we knew about him before he went into prison, was that he had joined the Communist Party at one point, that the ANC was Marxist, that he had in-- that he had been the leader of the violent struggle against the apartheid regime.  And as Paul says, the real genius, political genius of Mandela, was that he came out of prison and saw that the policies that he had espoused before he went into prison, were no longer the most effective ones.

MR. GIGOT:  And, you know, it also wasn’t that the United States was taking the side of the South African government and apartheid.  Everybody agreed that apartheid was odious.  The-- the-- the disagreement was over how best to pursue its breakdown.  And-- and-- and after the sanctions debate, President Reagan picked an ambassador, Edward Perkins, to South Africa, who was a-- a-- a-- a-- a black American, who argued for the release of Mandela.  And may, in fact, have had significant influence in releasing him.

REV. SHARPTON:  Well, Paul, that’s true.  But-- but let-- but let’s be clear, Reagan vetoed-- supported veto on bills.  Reagan denounced Mandela, called him names.  Let’s-- let us not act that-- 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.

GREGORY:  This came up in 2000 when-- when Dick Cheney is 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 being freed.  This is what Cheney said then.

(Videotape; July 30, 2000)

MR. DICK CHENEY (Vice Presidential Candidate):  Well, certainly if-- I would have loved to have Nelson Mandela released.  I don’t know anybody who was for keeping him in prison.  Again, this was a resolution of the U.S. Congress, so it wasn’t as though if we passed it, he was going to be let out of prison.  It had another provision in it.  It also required the recognition of the A.N.C., the African National Congress; which, at the time, was viewed as a terrorist organization, advocating violence in-- in South Africa.  My recollection is the Reagan administration opposed it, and I supported the administration.


MR. BROKAW:  Everything was happening at warp speed.  That’s one of the things which you have to remember.  We were going from the pitched Cold War to the these extraordinary changes that were going on, not just behind the Soviet Union, but in the satellite states as well.  And then in South Africa, you have the additional pressure, as the 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 Regan 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 we didn’t know about what was likely to happen.  And certainly what I always think is-- 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 interests of the country.  No one admired Mandela more at the end of their relationship than F.W. de Klerk did.  He saw what kind of a man they were dealing with, and the interests that he had for their country.

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to take another break here.  The roundtable will be back.  But first, she said earlier this week of Nelson Mandela, our planet has lost a friend.  Our Harry Smith talks with author and poet Maya Angelou about her enduring friendship with the inspirational leader.

DR. MAYA ANGELOU:  We thank him for coming, we thank him for teaching us, and we thank him for loving us all.


GREGORY:  And we are back.  Would the man survive, could the man survive?  His answers strengthened men and women around the world.  Those are the words from author and poet Maya Angelou from her new poem called "His Day is Done" as she mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela.  Harry Smith now on a friendship that withstood the tests of time and endurance.


MR. HARRY SMITH:  What is it in a man who chooses grace first?

DR. MAYA ANGELOU:  Probably courage.  Courage is one of the most important of all the virtues.  Because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.  But to be that thing time after time after time, when you’re in a prison cell 27 years, when you’re being brutalized by everybody, it seems, and nobody seems to care, and to be constantly gracious enough to say, I forgive you.  Goodness gracious, Harry Smith, that’s incredible.

MR. SMITH:  What do you remember from when he was released from prison?

DR. ANGELOU:  My joy was o-- overwhelming. I watched him walk out, smiling.  Hmm.  I was so proud.  I was so proud to be an American, I was proud to be black, I was proud to be a woman.  I was proud to be a human being.  I am still proud.  When I saw him walk out, that’s who I am.  That’s who I can be.

MR. NELSON MANDELA:  We are going forward.

DR. ANGELOU:  He not only survived, he thrived.  Just imagine.  I-- I just think of the person who could invite his captors and his guards at Robben’s Island to his inauguration.

MR. MANDELA:  So help me God.

DR. ANGELOU:  I weep now at it.

MR. SMITH:  What's the lesson?

DR. ANGELOU:  Forgive.  Goodness gracious, you do yourself a favor when you forgive.  Drop that.  Whatever it is, it’s happened already.  Forgive.  Maybe the person will learn something.

MR. SMITH: True Liberation.

DR. ANGELOU:  Yes, sir.  Indeed, sir, indeed.  It was his spirit that delivered us.  And that’s what he’s brought, is deliverance from ignorance.

MR. SMITH:  When you heard, then, finally that he had passed, what was your thought?

DR. ANGELOU:  I thought, will I be able to remember all that I’ve learned from him, from his kindness and his generosity of spirit.  Will I remember?  And I thank God I do.

MR. SMITH:  A week will pass, and two weeks will pass, and three weeks will pass, and a few more will be over and people will stop having this conversation.

DR. ANGELOU:  Well, I don’t think anybody dies in vain.  I don’t think so.  Some of us learn.  Some of us don’t.  Do you realize what would happen in South Africa, had there not been a Nelson Mandela?  It would be running in blood.  Not too long ago, it wasn’t against the law to lynch a man or a woman.  And so I don’t think that Nelson Mandela’s death was in vain.  His life was not.  I will never be the same.  We thank him for coming.  We thank him for teaching us.  And we thank him for loving us all.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  What a reflection.  Harry Smith, your thoughts this morning?

MR. SMITH:  A redemptive morning for us, Friday morning, to be able to spend it with Doctor Angelou.  But one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is just how dangerous it was to be black and live in South Africa.  Steve Biko ends up being pulled over by the cops in South Africa.  He’s dead 24 hours later.  You risked your life just breathing and being black in South Africa during those decades.  And to see this man come out, the way he came out, is-- that talk about a teachable moment.

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. SMITH:  This is the time to embrace it.

GREGORY:  Well, thanks for helping us do that this morning, Harry Smith.

When we come back, we'll talk about some of the other politics of the week.  How did Mandela’s death overshadow the president’s public defense of Obamacare this week?  That was his push before Mandela’s death.  Plus, the lowest unemployment rate in five years.  Have we finally turned a corner on our economy?

Up next, our roundtable is back with some of their insights and analysis on those questions on MEET THE PRESS.


GREGORY: Here now, some of this week’s Images to Remember.

Empire State Building lights up in honor of Mandela.

Paris pays tribute.

Detained U.S. war veteran leaves North Korea.

Remembering Pearl Harbor 72 years later.

Christmas spirit at the National Tree Lighting.

GREGORY:  President Obama at the Christmas tree lighting.  Back with our roundtable, the politics of the moment is Obamacare.  And the president was out there reselling it this week, Katty Kay.  This is a portion of what he said.

(Videotape; Tuesday)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  If I’ve got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that's what I’ll do.  That’s what we’ll do.

(End videotape)

GREGORY:  Underscoring that this is really the only job he has left here in his second term, right?

MS. KAY:  Well, it may be all that he gets done in his second term.  If you, I mean if-- if he can make this succeed, this will be his legacy issue.  And if you look at the chances of getting immigration reform, of getting some kind of comprehensive jobs bill, of getting spending on infrastructure, of getting tax reform which is what businesses all say they need, those look pretty minimal, given the politics of Washington.  So he-- he may have to spend the next three years making it work, and it may be worth it for him, because this may be what he’s left with as his big legacy issue.

GREGORY:  But Paul Gigot, your editorial page writes quite often, it’s not just about the website.  There are a lot of other challenges that are ahead that raise the question by The Week Magazine of will this thing float?

MR. GIGOT:  That’s right.  Well, but the website isn’t totally fixed, either…

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. GIGOT: ...particularly on the backhand where-- you know…

GREGORY:  Right.

MR. GIGOT:  …you have to deliver the information to the insurers, and that still has a 25 percent or so error rate.  And that’s a big problem, because you’re not getting accurate information to them.  They don’t know who-- who’s signing up.  And that’s the other problem, who is signing up?  Young people, not signing up right now in the numbers that they have to, to make this work long term.  So you’re going to see problems with people not just losing their insurance policies, but beginning to see with these narrow networks in these new policies.  Oh, I can’t keep my doctor; and by the way, maybe the price is going up, not just in 2014 to buy policy, but 2015.  And that politics is going to roll out and-- and-- and hurt the Democrats.

GREGORY:  But Al Sharpton, going on the offensive as you did this week, it certainly pleases the base.  Is it enough to change the first impression that Americans have?

REV. SHARPTON:  I think that as the program unfolds and as we begin to see people sign up and we see victories.  We’re hearing people talk about-- I did not have a way out, I had a preexisting condition.  We see him going to college campuses, young people are beginning to sign.  I think it will be enough, because there’s nothing that can have glitches and problems forgotten more than success.  And I think the success of this, notwithstanding the problems and the blunders, this is the first time millions of people that had no opportunity to have health care and to be insured, now has that opportunity.  And the critics who have presented no way of doing that, will not be able to dampen that as that becomes reality.

GREGORY:  Tom, being up here in New York talking to economic leaders, you see the-- the unemployment news this week, positive. We’ll show the chart on the screen showing the arc of it over the course of the Obama presidency.  It’s certainly the right direction, but is it really turning a corner?  Do people feel that in a way that he’ll get any credit?

MR. BROKAW:  No, I don’t think they do, David.  I don’t think charts give people reassurance.  And speaking about health care and the unemployment situation, these are two very dynamic situations that we’re facing in this country.  A big part of the economy obviously involves health care.  And what we don’t know yet, despite the president’s promises, is how-- just how the health care delivery systems are going to respond to what he has in mind.  What big companies and small companies are going to be doing to see that their best interests are served by all of this.  And that-- at this point, we can’t see how that might play out by the end of his first term.  In terms of employment, yes, there are some encouraging signs that it is going down.  But we know that the underlying issues still are the middle class is widely separated from the one percent at the top.  We know that we don’t have the skill set in our economy.  There was just another report this past week about where America stands when it comes to the rest of the world in terms of educational skills.  We have a lot of work to be done.  So these are decimal points we’re talking about.  It’s not really dealing with a larger, big picture issue about the American economy.

GREGORY:  With Katty Kay, final point on this.  We still don’t have political consensus.  You know, the president called for a minimum wage hike this week.  That’s not going to happen.  It’s just not going to happen in Congress, it’s not going to happen on this president’s watch if you look at the current political climate.  So a lot of these issues still go unaddressed.

MS. KAY:  Yeah.  And the president was out there making a very populist pitch this week.  But as you suggest, he’s up against Congress.  You have individual states, individual cities that are doing things on the minimum wage.  But we have the prospect of unemployment benefits being rescinded at the beginning of next year.  That could again have another knock-on effect on growth if people are not getting that kind of money.  The-- the underlying issues of this economy are still fragile at the moment, and the political consensus in Washington to really shore things up, to do the things…

GREGORY:  Right.

MS. KAY:  …that are necessary, is not there.

GREGORY:  All right.  We’re going to leave it there for today.  Thank you all very much for welcoming me to New York.  It was glad-- great to have you here.

REV. SHARPTON:  Welcome, David.

GREGORY:  Yes, thank you.  Good to be here.  That is all for today.  One programming note I want to share with you, be sure to watch TODAY and NIGHTLY NEWS with Brian Williams this coming week, for the announcement of TIME magazine’sPerson of the Year.  We’ll be back next week in Washington.  If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.