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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Interview With Jason Carter

Aired June 23, 2002 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Former President Jimmy Carter's grandson is following in his footsteps, helping others, writing books. Jason Carter has built Habitat for Humanity homes with his father, seen in the tape here. And the younger Carter also has traveled to Africa, as the elder statesman did, and he has written a book about his experience called "Power Lines: Two Years On South Africa's Border."

Jason Carter joining us here at CNN center in Atlanta.

Jason, you have your grandfather's gift for writing. Did you know that?

JASON CARTER, AUTHOR, "POWER LINES," GRANDSON OF FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: I did not know that. But it's been a great experience to write the book and, you know, living in South Africa was an adventure for me. And South Africa is an amazing place. And so I hope that those two things sort of come across in the book.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk first of all about the title, "Power Lines," because there's two or three meanings in there. A quite literal one is utility transmission. Tell us about that.

CARTER: That power lines and real electricity poles ran through the town where I lived and people at the bottoms of these poles carried their water from the river and built their houses out of sticks and mud and no one had electricity.

O'BRIEN: So it was white man's power?

CARTER: More or less. And it ran from white town to white town. And South Africa is a place where the First World elements that, where folks have electricity, and the Third World elements collide every day.

O'BRIEN: Can you think of an African country where the contrast is greater between First World and Third?

CARTER: No, I really, I can't think of another country in the world, almost. I mean South Africa has this wonderful industrialized economy that, you know, South African breweries just bought Miller Beer. And it's something that has, it has those elements to it, but it does at the same time have this grinding poverty. O'BRIEN: Well, I think there is a misconception here in the United States that everything is hunky dory over there. Nelson Mandela's triumph, Mbeki's role as the president, the sense that apartheid is dead and buried. But it really isn't, is it?

CARTER: Well, I mean, the political transformation really is over and I got to meet with Mandela, and I write about that in the book. And he is...

O'BRIEN: What a thrill that must have been.

CARTER: Oh, absolutely. I mean...

O'BRIEN: Your granddad and Mandela right there.

CARTER: Yes, sitting in the room together. It was, I mean it was a neat experience for me. But also just meeting the people on the street and in the village where I lived, there is a sense of purpose there and apartheid isn't over. There is residue left over and it's psychological and material, but people are really moving forward on it. And it's an exciting place right now and a time of transformation.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about this village of Lowhill (ph). It was, it's a matriarchy. It's desperately poor. And yet there is, you write of tremendous, well, the humanity of it comes across and the love the people share for each other and the care.

CARTER: Well, you know, because I was able to speak the language and bring kokanabantu (ph) and because I was able to really immense myself in the culture...

O'BRIEN: That's quite a sound, by the way.

CARTER: Yes, I know. That just means this word has clicks in it. But -- that's not really what it means. But we, I was able to immense myself really in the culture. And that was something that allowed me to see, you know, sort of the back side of South Africa that tourists and journalists and a lot of other folks don't get to see. And it really is a beautiful and amazing place.

O'BRIEN: So do you walk away optimistic, as what seems to be your nature? Or is there a certain amount of pessimism given the great divide that you discovered?

CARTER: Well, I don't want to romanticize the way that things are happening in South Africa because there is, you know, nitty gritty transformations that are still going on. But I'm really hopeful. And I like I said, that sense of purpose is pervasive. There are leaders in this community that are as much heroes of mine as Mandela is.

O'BRIEN: All right, briefly before you get away, did it ever matter, did it ever come up, your lineage?

CARTER: I mean it came up and obviously that's part of the reason why I decided to go. We used to talk about the Zambian election around the dinner table at Christmas. So I've been interested in this kind of stuff for a long time.

But while I was there, the fact that I was a white guy who spoke Zulu and lived in their town was way more important than that I was Jimmy Carter's grandson.

O'BRIEN: Jason Carter, Jimmy Carter's grandson. The book is "Power Lines." It's a good read. Good job, Jason, and thank you for sharing your experience with us.

CARTER: I appreciate it. I hope folks enjoy the book.

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