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A Sad Moment in South Africa; Imagine a World

Aired December 6, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET



NELSON MANDELA, FMR. PRESIDENT, SOUTH AFRICA: Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another."

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: The promise of Nelson Mandela as he became president.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Flags fly at half-staff from the United States to Buckingham Palace for South Africa's greatest son. Moral conscience of the world, statesman, warrior and prisoner number 46664. Outside his house and it seems across the planet, people are grieving and giving thanks for a mortal whose towering influence put him as close any human can get to the pantheon of the gods.

Mandela himself always brushed away those attempts to canonize him. "I'm not a saint," he would say, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

The spontaneous outbreak of dancing and singing outside his house ever since people heard of his death reflect the spirit of the man who could always be found smiling and shuffling and clapping his hands. The image of one who gleefully embraced the responsibilities of leadership rather than be burdened and bowed by them.

It was his manifest joy as well as his iron will that delivered his nation from the awful indignities of minority domination and inspired the fight for equality around the world.

He was determined not to bow before the oppressor, but not to seek revenge, either. The last white president of South Africa, F. W. de Klerk, was his partner is dismantling apartheid. But he told me that he wasn't fully prepared the first time he saw Mandela 20 years, despite all the briefings he got and all the books that he had read.


F. W. DE KLERK, FORMER PRESIDENT, SOUTH AFRICA: I was impressed, however, by how tall he was, by the ramrod straightness of his stature, and realized that this is a very special man. He's truly a very dignified and a very admirable person.


AMANPOUR: Nelson Mandela will be accorded a full state funeral on December 15th. And in the meantime, his body will lie in state. Expect millions of South Africans to snake past his coffin, just as they did to cast their first ballots in the first democratic elections that Mandela had brought them.

Cyril Ramaphosa was there with Nelson Mandela on every step of the road to that first election. He was chief negotiator for the African National Congress, hammering out an end to apartheid. He was chairman of South Africa's constitutional assembly. And it's no secret that Ramaphosa was Mandela's preferred successor. One day he might yet be president.

He's now deputy leader of the ANC and he joined me from Johannesburg for his first interview since his mentor's death.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Ramaphosa, welcome back to this program.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA, ANC DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Christiane. Welcome to talk to you again.

AMANPOUR: Reflect for me, if you will, on the passing of your brother-in-arms.

RAMAPHOSA: Well, this is a sad moment for all of us in South Africa. But it is also a moment for celebrating Nelson Mandela's life.

He's been a father of the nation, the builder of the South African new nation and he's been a mentor, a comrade, a friend, a reconciler. He has been nearly everything to many South Africans.

AMANPOUR: But take me back to the moment when Nelson Mandela, behind bars, decided unilaterally to reach out to the apartheid government.

Why and how did that happen?

RAMAPHOSA: Well, whilst he was in prison, he saw the conflict rising and rising on an annual basis between the oppressor and the oppressed.

And he came to the conclusion that the only way this racial conflict could be resolved and the only way oppression could be stopped would be through negotiations between the African National Congress and the apartheid regime at the time.

And he reached out to them. He reached out to P.W. Botha without even discussing it with his other colleagues in prison, with Oliver Tambo, who was in exile. And for some reason, he knew that they would trust him so much that they would know he would not be selling out or going out on a whim of his own.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you specifically about those negotiations, because you have said that had Nelson Mandela been negotiating with Piet Botha, he was such a tough negotiator that it could have all collapsed.

And yet F.W. de Klerk decided to roll with the punches. It was quite brutal, the negotiations.

RAMAPHOSA: The negotiations were not easy; they were quite tough and anybody who has negotiated with Nelson Mandela or against Nelson Mandela, I would have felt a great pity for them because, whatever he negotiated, he made sure that he stuck to principle and he won the argument.

But at the same time, he always gave an allowance to his counterparty to go away from the negotiating table, having obtained some measure of victory or something that he can sell to his side.

So he was a negotiator par excellence.

AMANPOUR: And then you were the lead negotiator for the elections and for the political process. And you've been quoted as saying there was so much violence at the time that, leading up to those elections, it was a miracle that that first democratic vote actually happened.

Take us back to that moment.

RAMAPHOSA: The negotiations leading to the end and the defeat of apartheid were very difficult; they were engulfed by violence.

But Nelson Mandela just stayed the course and said the victory for all our people and in those who will have departed would be to bring an end to the nightmare of apartheid.

And it was a miracle.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ramaphosa, you experienced the brutalities of apartheid, like so many of the black population. You and your family were forcibly resettled and you went to the township of Soweto.

Can you tell me what that, that experience of this brutal regime?

RAMAPHOSA: The apartheid regime's key cruel hallmark was not only in oppressing the majority of South Africans, but also enforcing its will on black South Africans. And that will was enforced through the jackboots, through removals, as they embarked on their social engineering.

They moved people from where they had been born, where they had grown up, and moved them to the dusty, arid parts of the country.

As they were trying to clean up Johannesburg, they moved people from a place called Sophiatown, western native township where I was born, and we were moved en masse. Trucks would just arrive in the morning and just load up everything that you possessed, destroyed the houses.

And you were just moved because they were making way for white people to live peacefully without being disturbed by the presence of black people in a particular area.

So their social engineering was so brutal, it was so cruel, where they degraded everybody's rights, black people in South Africa knew no right, no human right, and their rights were violated on an ongoing basis.

And that is something that was visited upon many South Africans through the length and the breadth of the country. Many will say during the removals, they lost their property, they lost their dignity and they also lost their lives. That is how apartheid was so cruel.

AMANPOUR: And yet you've moved past that, but there still are so many challenges for South Africa.

At this moment of tribute from all over the world, what are the challenges in the post-Mandela period?

RAMAPHOSA: He was the most amazing leader we've had, who was able to forgive not only his jailers but also his oppressors.

He has taught us to be a forgiving nation, and in the process, he has taught us to be -- that we should walk along the path of reconciliation. And the legacy that he leaves us overall is transformation.

And this is the moment when, as we put him to rest, all of us as South Africans, will be saying let us reconcile, let us transform our country to properly build it into the South Africa of Nelson Mandela's dreams. That is the route that we are now going to walk.

AMANPOUR: Cyril Ramaphosa, thank you very much for joining me on this day.

RAMAPHOSA: You're most welcome. Thank you very much, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And coming up, there were, of course, many white South African freedom fighters, too. Albie Sachs was one of the most prominent. He knows all too well Mandela's uncompromising fight for equality.

MANDELA: It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

AMANPOUR: And that's part of Nelson Mandela's famous speech from the dock before being sentenced in 1964. And those words were the last he would utter in public for the next 27 years.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, where we are remembering South Africa's greatest son, Nelson Mandela, as President Zuma has called him. It was not only black South Africans who were against apartheid; many whites hated it, too, and struggled against it, often at great cost.

Albie Sachs is one of the -- is one of South Africa's most prominent white freedom fighters and he was a member of the ANC. And along with Mandela, he spent six painstaking years drafting a constitution that would become the cornerstone of the new post-apartheid South Africa.

He joined me from Abu Dhabi, where he learned of his friend's death upon arriving there for a speaking tour about Nelson Mandela.


AMANPOUR: Albie Sachs, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Tell me what you're thinking right now. You first became involved with the anti-apartheid campaign, the struggle, when you were just 17 years old.

What's going through your mind right now?

SACHS: You know, right now I can't imagine it was 60 years ago. And so much has happened to Nelson Mandela, to our country, to myself in that time.

But there's a thread that runs all the way through. And it's a thread of idealism and belief in a just world and human dignity. And he just symbolizes it so beautifully. He expressed -- he didn't create the culture. People somehow make it sound that he was Mr. Nice Guy who brought us all together and got rid of hatred in our hearts and led our country to freedom. It just wasn't like that at all. He was at the crest of a popular wave, something very deep in our society. And he articulated more beautifully with more exquisite dignity and precision and a mixture of a mixture of a great gravitas with lots of humor as something that we were all aching for, and ultimately we achieved in our new constitution.

AMANPOUR: Well, tell me how you first came across him. I said you were 17 years old. How did that relationship, your part in the struggle, start?

SACHS: Well, I sat down, leading a group of four young white people to sit on benches marked non-whites only in the general post office in Cape Town. This was part of the Defiance of Unjust Laws campaign. And like so many South Africans, we met through the struggle. Afterwards, we met through the underground. We met through clandestine communications.

Then we met through creating a new constitution. And finally he was there when I was sworn in as a judge, whom he'd appointed. And then kind of the cherry on the top, the judges turned down, overruled a decision of Nelson Mandela proclamations that he'd issued, declaring them unconstitutional. I mean, that's gratitude for you.

And he accepted with enormous aplomb and as if to say, and you see what a marvelous country I'm president of, where they can strike down --


SACHS: -- in terms of the constitution things that had promulgated. That's what we've arrived at.

AMANPOUR: And yet it was not a modest constitution. And you were involved in that and also the reconciliation after his release and after the end of apartheid.

Tell me about forming a constitution that was universal and that gave actually everybody rights without revenge.

SACHS: It took us six years. It was very, very tough. It wasn't just the wonderful Mandela meeting the wise de Klerk, sitting around the table and doing a deal. We had breakdowns; we had rolling mass action. There were massacres. But we never -- both sides never lost sight of the goal of getting a constitution for a country where we could live together.

We had to look into each other's eyes; we had to understand each other very well. And we finally, we got this very comprehensive constitution that's held up as a model to the world. And it's working. It's not solving the problems of our country, but it's giving us a foundation for doing that.

And it's set up the instruments, the institutions, which live beyond Mandela; the constitution rolls on forever. The constitutional court is there; we have a very free press, a lively media.

We have strong civil society, political parties that engaged with each other, elections that are free and fair. So we have all the elements of the democracy, even although we still have enormous problems.

AMANPOUR: Indeed. And it must be pointed out that there were, like you, very dedicated white South Africans against apartheid. And you paid a very heavy price. You were brutally injured; you lost an arm. I believe you're blinded in one eye.

Tell me about what happened to you and the cost of joining the struggle.

SACHS: The hardest moments for me, in fact, were interrogation, sleep deprivation, collapsing on the floor. The bomb was terrible. I lost an arm but it was only an arm. I felt joyous because that moment every Freedom Fighter's waiting for, will they come for me? If they come for me, will I be brave?

They tried to kill me and I survived and I felt somehow immune. And as I got better my country would get better.

And I was just part of a huge collective team of thousands and millions of people, striving for freedom, with some brilliant leaders like Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu and Albertina Sisulu and of course Nelson Mandela at the head.

So that sense of solidarity amongst us was very, very powerful, very, very strong, and I think it's that solidarity that's expressing itself today, this evening in South Africa, where people are celebrating and dancing and singing when, in other parts of the world, they might be with tears and dressed in black.

South Africans are expressing a sense of joy that we are in a country that produced Nelson Mandela, who's become a hero to the whole world.

AMANPOUR: Albie Sachs, thank you so much for your great memories and your wonderful insight on this day. Thank you for joining us.

SACHS: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: What an incredible story.

And if there is one picture which marks the birth of Nelson Mandela's Rainbow Nation, it's perhaps this one. The South African president wearing one of the most potent symbols of apartheid, the Springbok rugby jersey. At the 1994 World Cup, he had conspired with team captain Francois Pienaar to wear his number, 6. And when the president handed him the winner's trophy, it was of course the first rugby World Cup in which South Africa had been allowed to compete. And in South Africa, rugby had been a white sport, regarded by blacks as the oppressor's sport. So Mandela's sartorial decision that day turned that stadium and that nation around.

And Captain Francois Pienaar reflected on that unforgettable moment on the podium.


FRANCOIS PIENAAR, RETIRED SOUTH AFRICAN RUGBY CAPTAIN: His first words were, "Thank you very much, Francois, for what you have done for this country." And I became quite emotional because I couldn't believe that he's just said that to me.

And my reply was, "No, Mr. Mandela, thank you for what you've done for this country."

And I felt like hugging him.



AMANPOUR (voice-over): And then Mandela's last public appearance was also at a sporting event. It was the 2010 football World Cup that was held to great acclaim in South Africa.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as we try to imagine a world without Nelson Mandela, it's important to journey back to that little bit of hell that imprisoned his body but never his mind or his spirit. It's a pilgrimage that I made myself back in 1997 and one that's never to be forgotten.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The ferry is not on a pleasure cruise. It is tracing a journey that humans used to make in chains, nine kilometers across the water on a one-way ticket to hell.

Tourists are now coming to Robben Island and the prison block that once held the world's most famous inmate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politically in 1964, conditions were (INAUDIBLE). They all believed we were monsters, we were anti-Christ and that, you know, we (INAUDIBLE). We couldn't even see the sunlight.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Lionel Davis and other former inmates conduct the tours. They explain how food and clothes were rationed by race. The assaults, the beatings and how afterwards prisoners were forced to scrub their own blood from the cells.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will also notice that there is no toilet.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars. It made him a legend and his cell a shrine. It's where days in solitary confinement and nights on thin mats shaped the prisoner who became president and fellow inmates who became his ministers.

This is the lime quarry, where they were forced to break rocks, their eyesight permanently damaged by the glare.

AMANPOUR: Nelson Mandela called this the iron fist, the harshest outpost of South Africa's penal system. It was only after international pressure and pressure from sympathetic South Africans that conditions here began to improve.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Eventually they were allowed to study, to receive a visitor or a letter more than once every six months. But Mandela had to lobby for three years for the right to wear sunglasses in the quarry.

Tourists come from abroad, but it's the South Africans, black and white, who find their day of reckoning here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The feeling of remorse has been more than anger, more sadness that one human can do this to another.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bridging personal and political differences inside laid the foundation for the forgiveness they now preach on the outside. But still, it is hard not to be angry.

And on the boat ride back, there are no smiles, no laughter, only people deep in thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it makes you feel that such an evil thing was done in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad that we spent such a lot of time and energy and money and manpower and everything on people being locked away. And my kids have to live with that.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Every South African has to live with that. But these people are lucky. They have just seen the triumph of the human spirit. They have just made a pilgrimage to the patron saint of political miracles.


AMANPOUR: Reflections from 1997 and the greatest miracle of all is that the inhumanity and the unspeakable cruelty that could have crushed a lesser man became the anvil on which he hammered out a nation, a nation that celebrates his life even as it faces a future beyond the rainbow.