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The Situation Room

Nelson Mandela Dead at 95; People Who Knew Mandela Speak about Him

Aired December 05, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Jake. He really was an amazing, amazing leader. I spent some time with him in South Africa when he was president in 1998 and it's amazing what he did there in South Africa despite all of the persecution he went through, the imprisonment in Robben Island, everything he had to endure from the apartheid regime.

When he was elected president, he wanted to make sure there would be no revenge. There would be a peaceful transition to democracy. He almost single-handedly avoided a civil war that could have been so, so brutal. Christiane Amanpour covered this story with me over the years.

Christiane, it's a sad, sad day, but 95 years old, he lived a very wonderful, long life and he really made a difference to the world.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He did indeed. He lived an incredibly difficult life. You heard President Zuma pay tribute to the incredible sacrifice that he made throughout his life, for 27 plus years in prison and also to his family, paying tribute to his family for making such a sacrifice on behalf of the world.

You know, this is the towering moral giant of the 20th and 21st century. It is very unlikely that we are to see the likes of Mandela again for a very, very long time. What he accomplished was not just being an icon for democracy and freedom and justice, but he was able to come out of jail after all those years of the most violent apartheid regime with no bitterness that he showed to the world.

He kept the country together when it could very well have spun into a terrible civil war, and in fact, that was the fear around the time of the first election, the freedom party was on the verge of violence. He had to do everything he could to make sure that didn't happen.

During the negotiations with then President F.W. De Clerk, there were many, many times when they broke down, each side accusing the other of bad faith, but then they got together again and continued to work this out. The world embraced Nelson Mandela. Every time you ask anybody who is your most inspirational leader, everybody says Nelson Mandela and that's for a reason.

In fact, tonight at the U.N. Security Council not far from where we are now, they are calling a moment of silence to remember and to honor him. He was the most incredible leader for our time, especially as we know, the possibility of violence, of division, of paralysis and partisanship, he really was able to overcome that and his long walk to freedom has benefited the whole world and how ironic it is that the film of his own biography is coming out right now.

There are premieres right now, last week in the Kennedy Center in Washington, tonight in London, where his own daughter has been, and there is so much now that is coming out for people to be able to read and to reflect and to pause and remember just what gift this amazing man gave to the world.

I interviewed F.W. De Klerk, who was his partner in the end in the dismantling of apartheid, one of the world's most violent racist regimes that endured for so long. And I asked F.W. De Klerk, what did you think when you first saw him.

What was your impression?

And he said, you know, even though I had been briefed, even though I had done my homework, even though I had been told so much about him, I was staggered when I first met him, the dignity of this man, the physical size, the tallness, the slim bearing that was so proud, really impressed him a lot.

Their first meeting, he told me, was one just to get together. He had summoned Mandela from Victor Verster Prison. And they just had a get- together meeting that first time. And then that led to the gradual partnership that dismantled apartheid and brought democracy and freedom to South Africa and showed that, actually, majority can rule -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A truly, truly amazing man who made such a unique difference to the world, not only to South Africa, but to the entire world.

Christiane, I want to show our viewers a live picture of his home now. People are beginning to gather. This is outside of Johannesburg in South Africa. Only beginning to pay respects to Nelson Mandela, at the age of 95, who has just passed away.

We heard the announcement from Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa.

And we want to welcome our viewers who might just be tuning in here in the United States and around the world.

We'll have special breaking news coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're watching what's going on, Christiane.

And Robyn Curnow is in Johannesburg watching what's going on, as well. We're only now going to begin, Christiane, to get reaction. I am sure that leaders around the world will want to speak out and pay their special respects to this world leader, from the president of the United States, the leaders in Europe, Africa, all over the world.

AMANPOUR: That's right. BLITZER: It will only just begin now.

AMANPOUR: That's right. And, indeed, President Zuma paid tribute to how much Nelson Mandela had been embraced by the world, that he was also the global representation of this relentless and unyielding struggle for freedom and justice. And he never gave up.

And I remember, you know, watching him being released from prison from very far away, from here in New York, watching the television. And nobody knew what to expect. The last pictures they had seen of Nelson Mandela were the black and white pictures of his trial, when he was sentenced in the Rivonia trial in 1964 and put away for a long time. And nobody saw him until he walked out that day, holding the hand of his then wife, Winnie Mandela. In fact, they raised their fists together and welcomed his freedom.

But everybody took this collective sigh, this gasp, that look at this man, who has been hidden for so long, how handsome, how tall, how good looking, how gray, how elderly he's got.

And I have heard President Clinton speak about how he woke up Chelsea that morning and he said, you know, Nelson Mandela is going to be freed and this is probably the most important thing that's going to happen in your life, so come and watch the television.

So everybody was vested in that moment. I remember it so clearly. And so does everybody who was there.

BLITZER: It was an amazing moment for the -- for South Africa, indeed, for the world.

I want to bring Fareed Zakaria into this conversation -- Fareed, we're remembering Nelson Mandela, a world leader who made such, such a change, not only in South Africa, but, indeed, he inspired so many people around the world.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, you remember, this is a man born in 1918, born when the sun never set on the British empire, and lived a long life, and was part of a kind of tradition of nonviolent resistance to colonial power and colonial oppression that was part of the Indian independence movement. He was greatly inspired by Gandhi, by the nonviolent struggle.

And that was one of the most remarkable aspects of Mandela when he came out after 27 years in jail. I remember being struck by even his speech pattern. It was like he came out of a different era. He came out of an age when giants walked the world -- you know, Gandhi, Nehru, Churchill, FDR. He was really part of that world, had just been frozen in a jail for 27 years.

But when he came out, it turned out he retained not just the speech patterns and some of the mannerisms and some of the formality, you remember the man who almost seemed to always wear a suit, no matter where he went, until he left, you know, the presidency.

He had this belief that it was very important to set certain standards. And he demonstrated it with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the fact there was no vengeance taken of any kind, that he didn't even dismiss most of the people who worked for the great Afrikaner state. And, of course, eventually by being South Africa's George Washington. He only served one term because he thought it was very important that he demonstrate that he was voluntarily relinquishing power.

So that whole trajectory from 1918 to now has been one of leadership by example and leadership of a kind that, frankly, we haven't seen for a long time in the world.

BLITZER: A tremendous leader. And, you know, Fareed, you spoke with him, I've spoken with him. He was so soft-spoken. But in that soft- spoken manner of his, he was so powerful, with his words, with his actions. And it was an incredible opportunity to learn from a leader like this.

Let me read a statement that the former president, George W. Bush, has just issued on the passing of President Nelson Mandela. "Laura and I join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. President Mandela was one of the great forces of freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela's family and to the citizens of the nation he loved."

I anticipate we'll be getting a statement shortly from President Obama, as well.

President Clinton, so many world leaders will be -- will be, of course, responding and reacting. In fact, I expect to be hearing from the president. There you can see the White House Briefing Room. They're getting ready for a statement from the president of the United States. The seal is there. Now the flags are being installed. Momentarily, the president will walk into the Briefing Room and pay his respects.

And these are live pictures, once again, we're showing from outside President Nelson Mandela's home outside of Johannesburg.

Robyn Curnow is in Johannesburg for us.

She's covered this story for a long time -- Robyn, I understand that authorities in South Africa, they've worked out a very, very deliberate series of commemorative events over the next several days, as world leaders will come to South Africa.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Understandably. The focus for most people in the world is going to be here, over the next 10 days. We expect his funeral to take place on day 10 from now on. So that is either Saturday or Sunday, a week.

We know that in the next three or four days, his body will be taken to a military hospital in Pretoria, where he will be embalmed. On day five of this series of commemorative events, there will be a memorial service for him in a soccer stadium where the World Cup football final was played. And that will be, essentially, a public good-bye. That will take place here in Johannesburg. It's unclear if his body will be there or if it won't be.

Some heads of state are being encouraged to attend that commemorative memorial.

And then after that, from sort of day six, seven and eight, you're going to see Nelson Mandela lying in state at the Union Buildings, which is the seat of government in Pretoria. His casket will be placed under a dome. It will be very close to the same place where he took the oath of office when he became the first democratically elected president in this country in 1994.

He will lie there for three days. The first day will be for VIPs and for visitors coming in from around the world to come pay their respects. And ordinary South Africans are expected to line up, of course, to come and say good-bye to the man they call the father of this nation.

And then on day nine -- so whether that is Friday or Saturday next week, he will be flown by military aircraft, accompanied by his family, to his ancestral homestead in Qunu in the Eastern Cape region. This is where he said he wanted to be buried, where his final resting place is to be, the hills, the rural area where he grew up as a barefoot young boy walking and shepherding sheep through the hills.

He had a very nostalgic memory of those times. And he very much wanted to be laid to rest there.

So the funeral will take place in this grand amphitheater of rural South Africa. Really not much around there. So expect it, to see heads of state, royalty from around the world, make this incredible journey not just to the southern tip of Africa, but to this rural homestead.

And it's there that there will be a state funeral. And he will be laid to rest, we understand, under the midday sun, under the midday sun.

Now, what is also important throughout this whole process -- and it's no doubt also been taking place in the past few hours as the family held his hand, as they were there, as President Zuma said, through all those last moments, also who would have been there and will continue to be there until he is laid to rest are his elders, are the ancestral -- the keepers of the ancestors, essentially. The deep rural African traditions of his Tembu Xhosa tribe will play a lot and will be played out quite a lot over the next 10 days.

And what we understand, that in terms of a ritual or a tradition that would have already happened, or is in the process of happening, is something called the closing of the eyes. So the elders of his tribe would have been flown up here, or are being flown up. And they will go through a whole lot of traditional procedures called closing of the eyes. And they will talk to him. And they will accompany him. And they will explain to him, essentially, every time he is moved from the home where he passed to the mortuary, and then, of course, when he takes to that dome where he will lie in state, and then, of course, that final journey back to his homestead.

He will be accompanied by these elders throughout.

So there's going to be a real mix of Western and African traditions through this. And there is a real sense from the family, from the government, from South Africans, that they want this to be a farewell that is both a public one and a personal, private one for this family, this Mandela family, that, of course, has suffered quite a lot. A lot of sacrifices. He chose political life over them. And he acknowledged to me when I interviewed him recently, in the last few years, that that was the one thing that, even though he didn't regret it, he acknowledged that he had sacrificed his family for the common good.

But everyone here in South Africa will be thanking him for that, because this democracy really was founded by him, wasn't it?

BLITZER: It could have been such a different situation if it wouldn't have been Nelson Mandela who led South Africa away from apartheid, away from that racist regime, toward democracy. He almost single- handedly avoided what could have been a brutal, brutal bloodbath in South Africa.

An amazing leader.

We're standing by. The president of the United States, President Obama, about to come out to that microphone over there and make a statement. We know that President Obama, like so many leaders from around the world, so deeply, deeply admired Nelson Mandela.

The announcement of his death was made only a few moments ago by the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.


PRES. JACOB ZUMA, SOUTH AFRICA: Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed. He passed peacefully.


BLITZER: Jacob Zuma making the announcement only moments ago.

Donna Brazile is here -- Donna, like me, you met with Nelson Mandela. I know he inspired you. He had a huge impact on your life.

Give us a thought or two about this remarkable man.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Mr. Mandela was a warrior. He was one of the most courageous individuals I have ever worked with. He was a champion for freedom. He expanded democracy. He transformed South Africa, the African continent. But he was really a leader, someone who was gracious when you were with him in person. Back in 1993, I escorted him, with one of my friends, to the inaugural of Bill Clinton. He wanted to be here in the United States to witness that moment. And, of course, later, we all witnessed his inaugural in South Africa.

But he was a strong man, a determined man, but somebody who believed in unity, in peace and bringing people together, especially after spending so many years in prison.

BLITZER: And so many people around the world, including in the United States, they struggled to get rid of that apartheid regime. And he eventually succeeded, together with so many others, who worked so hard to do it. And he inspired all of us.

BRAZILE: You know, back in the late 1970s, there were boycotts, of course, boycotting apartheid. Many people on college campuses, myself included, we led protests.

And in the 1980s, we had protests here in Washington, DC, on Massachusetts Avenue, in front of the South African embassy, again, calling upon our country to impose strong, stiff sanctions on the apartheid regime, to free Nelson Mandela and to eliminate apartheid. And Nelson Mandela and so many others inspired us to do that.

BLITZER: Let me read a statement from the first President Bush, George H.W. Bush, on the death of Nelson Mandela. "Barbara and I mourn the passing of one of the greatest believers in freedom we have had the privilege to know. As president, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment, sending a powerful example of redemption and grace for all of us.

"He was a man of tremendous moral courage who changed the course of history in his country. Barbara and I had great respect for President Mandela and send our condolences to his family and his countrymen."

Once again, I want to remind our viewers, we're standing by to hear from President Obama. He will be walking into the briefing room over at the White House, going to the microphone and speaking about a man he so deeply, deeply admired over so many years. The president of the United States will pay official respects to Nelson Mandela and what he did.

Christiane Amanpour is watching the reaction that's pouring in alreadt. We shouldn't be surprised, 95 years old, Christiane, we were all bracing for this day. It has now happened.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think people were dreading this day. People obviously were bracing for it. You know, we had a terrible scare about his life and his health back in March. People thought that he was, you know, had departed or was close to departing back then, and luckily, he didn't. He's obviously been very well looked after and his last days and months have been surrounded by his family, but there was a very big scare. And everybody is dreading it because, you know, who next, who next, who matches this kind of leadership, this kind of courage. This kind of transformation of a man and a politician who started, you know, as a lawyer, who was a boxer even, before that, who was then a freedom fighter who then went to jail, who had to decide at one point and he had long conversations with his people, the ANC, should we, you know, should we question whether our peaceful tactics are in fact working?

Do we perhaps need to go to more violence? I remember that was a very, very major, major concern. In fact, lots of people called at that time the ANC terrorists. And then, when he came out of prison, when he said, you know, I say to you all, take your guns, your knives, your pangers and throw them into the sea, fully declaring in his first, you know, practically his first public address after 28 years of being in the wilderness in prison, no, this has to be peaceful.

This was huge and then you know, you heard President Zuma say this is the father, the founding father of our democratic South Africa, and you heard Robyn talk about the tribal homeland where he lived and the rural area where he's going to be finally laid to rest.

And I think I will never forget the pictures, not just of the snaking lines of hundreds of thousands of millions of people in the towns and the cities who cast their ballots for Nelson Mandela in 1994, but the helicopter shots of the countryside, when people were literally lining up in zigzag lines so quietly, so peacefully, so joyfully, just to have the privilege of casting their first ever vote in 1994, this majority Black country.

They had never had that right before and they stepped up to the plate. There was not a single violent act that day and they ran out of ballots. They had to have a second day of balloting. And I remember there was an S.O.S. that went out. We need volunteers. We need help. Kilometers of people came. The South African air force, you know, deployed helicopters. Cargo planes brought extra ballots.

It was dramatic, the fact that they pulled that election off, all his people say was a miracle given the odds -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A miracle indeed. And I remember, Christiane, just as a reporter going to South Africa in the 1980s during the brutal apartheid regime when I walked around Soweto, I saw how Black people were treated, I remember coming back to the United States simply disgusted by what was going on.

It was only a few years later when I went back to South Africa, Nelson Mandela was the president and I interviewed him in the presidential residence in Capetown and it was a remarkable moment in my journalistic career, and then a few years ago, when I went back to South Africa, when they had the World Cup soccer football games there, it was truly amazing to see how the country had progressed peacefully, democratically, thanks to this man, Nelson Mandela.

He could have been bitter, he could have been angry, but he was a wonderful, wonderful inspiration. Here in Washington, this is a live picture we're showing of the South African embassy here in the nation's capital and the U.S. capitol. There's a statue of Nelson Mandela that has been lit. It ios there all the time for all visitors to Washington, D.C. to see.

The president of the United States about to make a statement there in the White House briefing room, paying his respects, the respects of all Americans to Nelson Mandela. The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, who knew Nelson Mandela well, who understood what he meant not only for South Africa, but indeed, for the world, Andrew Young is joining us on the phone right now.

Your thoughts on this sad day. He passed away, ambassador, at the age of 95.

VOICE OF ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: You know, I think that we don't think of it as a sad day. We think of it as a day that he transformed into -- on into eternity. And if there's anybody that laid a foundation for peace and goodwill toward all men, women and children, it's Nelson Mandela. And he refused to let hate make him hate. He overcame all of the fears and insecurities of a White minority and he almost nurtured them back to -- into a feeling of brotherhood.

You talked about the soccer world cup, but I was there for the rugby world cup when the --depicted in the film of "Invictus" and he literally took on the task of uniting the country. Nobody liked the spring box. Nobody blocked like the spring box, and he put on a spring box jersey and a spring box hat and he walked throughout the Black community and he said these are our boys and we've got to rally behind them.

And he really willed that team to victory and in willing that team to victory, he helped unite the country. He was a phenomenal individual who insisted that his jailor be seated with his family at his inauguration. And everything he did was about reconciling differences. And he understood and Bishop Tutu says it in his book, there's no future without forgiveness.

That's the South African message, that whatever has happened in the past must be past and we must go on and find a way to live together peacefully and prosperously as brothers and sisters.

BLITZER: Is there something special, and we're awaiting the president, he should be making a statement in about a minute or so, but very quickly, Ambassador Young, is there one concept, one thought you want to share right now, what Americans and others watching us should think and recall about Nelson Mandela?

YOUNG: Well, his spiritual presence was far more important than his physical suffering, that it seemed as though the more he suffered, the stronger he became spiritually. And I don't know -- I didn't know him before he went to jail, but I knew many of his colleagues. And the one thing that impressed me always about South Africa was that he was not the only one that had this spirit, that there was a spirit of reconciliation that was a part of the body politic of Southern Africa, and I think we can build on that in the world. BLITZER: I think we can. And as I say, that is obviously very, very well said. Ambassador Young, stand by, because the president of the United States is about to walk into the briefing room and make a statement. This is a powerful moment for him personally, for the first lady, for so many Americans who are watching what's going on and who recall the struggle of Nelson Mandela and the people of South Africa for freedom, for democracy, for a new way of life.

This is a man who spent nearly 20 years on Robben Island. And, I was there in 1998 when former president, Bill Clinton, visited Robben Island together with Nelson Mandela. And I had the privilege and honor of interviewing Nelson Mandela in Capetown the next day, and it was amazing to me. Donna Brazile is watching as we await President Obama.

Donna, it was amazing to me that he showed, even though he had been at Robben Island the day before, where he had been so brutally treated for so many years, no bitterness, no anger. He said we need all South Africans, we need black South Africans, we need White South Africans, we need all South Africans to work together because this can be a great country. If we fight each other, the whole country will be destroyed.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, he believed when he left Robben Island that it was time to bring people together --

BLITZER: Hold on. Hold on, Donna. Here's the president of the United States.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed a statement from the dock saying "I have fought against White domination and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve, but if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. And today, he's gone home. We've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth. He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, he transformed South Africa and moved all of us.

His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. The fact that he did it all with grace and good humor and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections only makes the man that much more remarkable.

As he once said, "I'm not a saint, unless, you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying." I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life. My very first political action, first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was protest against apartheid. I would study his words and his writings.

The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they're guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.

To Michele and his family, Michele and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life's work meant long days away from those who loved him most, and I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family. To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal and reconciliation and resilience that you made real.

A free South Africa, at peace with itself. That's an example to the world. That's Madiba's legacy to the nation that he loved. We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us as best we can to for (ph) the example that he set, to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived, a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice. May God bless his memory and keep him in peace.

BLITZER: There he is, the president of the United States, paying his personal and the country's respects to a great, great man, Nelson Mandela, who passed away on this day at the age of 95. Nelson Mandela, who single-handedly almost made such a unique difference in the transition from a racist apartheid regime in South Africa to freedom and democracy, and he inspired by doing so the entire world.

That's a live picture from outside the South African embassy here in Washington of the statue of Nelson Mandela. Fareed Zakaria and Christiane Amanpour are watching together with all of us. Christiane, I assume the president of the United States will want to go to South Africa. In fact, I assume, there will probably be more world leaders gathered in South Africa in the coming days than perhaps at any funeral that has occurred recently.

AMANPOUR: I'm sure that's absolutely true. You just cannot get away from the specter of the first American black President paying tribute to the first South African Black president. I know that President Obama met Mandela. He didn't, this last time he went to South Africa, because he was so ill and he wanted to respect the feelings of the family and he didn't go to see him.

But clearly, you can tell, how could it be any other way that Obama was so incredibly and heavily influenced and inspired by the struggle of Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: Fareed, your thoughts after hearing the president of the United States.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: One of the things, Wolf, that President Obama reminded us was that this was one of the great moral causes and political causes of the 1980s and '90s. You remember it well and we have forgotten now, but it was one of the great rallying causes in -- on college campuses around the Western world. It was even true in Asia.

It was a -- it was a cause that really was global in a way that very few were because it was such a sore, a cancer, on global society, the idea that you had this white minority regime treating African blacks almost like slaves and this extraordinary system of institutionalized serfdom that was Apartheid.

And Obama reminds us that he, like many, many people, spent some time protesting against it, probably did so when he was in high school, possibly at Columbia, and, you know, that that world has gone away but one of the reasons it has gone away and has gone away in such a kind of harmonious way is because of Nelson Mandela, because when he came out of jail, he made a decision that he was going to reach out in a hundred small ways and some very, very important ways.

I remember talking to a South African -- somebody who was there at the time who pointed out that the new ministers in Mandela's government had been told they couldn't fire anyone, you know, who represented the old Apartheid African system because Mandela had said the whole old order stays intact.

Now think of that when we think about what's happened in Iraq, what's happened in all the post-Soviet states when the new guys come in, the new regime comes in, they wipe out the old. Mandela represented something very different and so from the protests of the '80s to the forgiveness of the '90s, it's a story.

BLITZER: And these are live pictures we're showing our viewers, Fareed, from outside of the Mandela home, outside of Johannesburg right now. People hearing this sad news that Nelson Mandela has passed away, they want to pay their personal respects. These kinds of moments will continue now over the next 10 days.

Robyn Curnow is joining us from Johannesburg.

And, Robyn, I know that a lot of us who lived through that era, and I was in South Africa in the '80s covering that story, I remember vividly visiting some of the townships, the black townships, meeting very educated, sophisticated, intelligent black people but who were living in horrible conditions, and simply being disgusted coming from the United States watching what was going on in the 1980s, and then seeing the dramatic change that happened only a few years later in the early '90s.

Remind our viewers a little, Robyn, about what has changed in South Africa over a relatively short span.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's nearly 20 years since democracy here, in 1994, when Mandela became the first black president, and just remember, Apartheid was a brutal regime but it was made up of lots, hundreds of petty little laws that all together created this racial monster so black people couldn't come into the towns to stay, to live.

You know, there was a real sense of two separate nations. And Nelson Mandela, along with many in the ANC and other political parties, all created the environment by which this was broken over the decades. It didn't take -- it didn't take a short time to do. It was years and years and years of protests and of defiance.

And I mean, he has a life that is remarkable. Started in 1918 at the end of the First World War.

Let's take a look at the life, the legacy of Nelson Mandela.


CURNOW (voice-over): Nelson Mandela's struggle for freedom defined his life. He was born in the remote hills of South Africa's Eastern Cape. He was given the name Rolihlahla, which means troublemaker. He was only given the name Nelson by a schoolteacher later on.

After moving to Johannesburg and studying law, Mandela's troublemaking politics began. And as a boxer, he became adept at picking fights and sparring with the Apartheid authorities which had increased its oppression against the black population.

It was then that Mandela made the crucial decision to take up an armed struggle, launching the African National Congress' Armed Wing. He was a militant and a firebrand, defiantly burning his passbook, a dreaded document the Apartheid authorities used to control the movement of South Africa's black population.

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: The Africans require, want, the franchise on the basis of one man one vote. They want political independence.

CURNOW: That simple demand and the methods Mandela took to fight for democracy eventually saw him and others tried for treason and sabotage by the Apartheid government, acts punishable by death. But they got life imprisonment instead, banished to Robben Island, one of the country's most brutal and isolated prisons.

Another political prisoner, Mac Maharaj, remembers the first time he saw Mandela in the prison yard.

MAC MAHARAJ, FORMER POLITICAL PRISONER: I could see from the way he walked and from his conduct that here was a man already stamping his authority on prison regime.

CURNOW: Mandela was released 27 years later.

MANDELA: I have spoken about freedom in my lifetime. Your struggle, your commitment and your discipline has released me to stand before you today. CURNOW: And his lack of bitterness towards the Apartheid authorities helped him to lead one of the most remarkable political transitions of the 20th century. Mandela, the trained lawyer and life-long rebel outmaneuvered the Apartheid leaders, and he steered South Africa's peaceful transition to democracy. He won a Nobel Peace Prize together with his former enemy, the Apartheid leader, F.W. de Klerk.

MANDELA: And to devote myself to the well-being of the republic and all its people.

CURNOW: And then he became South Africa's first black president in 1994.

MANDELA: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What marks Mandela's career as president more than anything else is after five years he stepped down. There have been very few presidents in Africa who've ever given up willingly.

MANDELA: Don't call me. I'll call you.

CURNOW: His retirement years were busy with fundraising for charities close to his heart. He celebrated his 90th birthday with much fanfare. And told CNN in a rare interview that looking back, he wouldn't do anything differently.

MANDELA: I don't regret it because the things that have threatened me were things that pleased my soul.

CURNOW: Now those who loved and respected him look to his legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if we want to learn from him, learn that life is not made up of straight victories. It's made up of mistakes, zigzags, stumbling, picking yourself up and dusting off the dirt, treating the bruise and walking again forward. And that's what Mandela is.

MANDELA: Good-bye.

CURNOW: Robyn Curnow, CNN, Johannesburg, South Africa.


CURNOW: Nelson Mandela, the fighter, the man who never surrendered to a brutal racist regime, who remains steadfast during 27 years in prison, has lost, has eventually given up. He's gone. Everyone here in South Africa will be saying good-bye.

BLITZER: And not only in South Africa, Robyn, but all over the world, people will be saying good-bye to Nelson Mandela for what he did for the people of South Africa, what he did for all of Africa, indeed, what he did around the world.

Christiane Amanpour is with us.

Christiane, I understand you have a special guest to discuss this special day.

AMANPOUR: I do, indeed. The former South African president, F.W. de Klerk, who was Nelson Mandela's partner in the dismantling of the white minority rule that led to the first peaceful democratic elections back in 10994.

Mr. President, thank you for joining me.

F.W. DE KLERK, FORMER PRESIDENT, SOUTH AFRICA: Hello, Christiane. It's a sad day, it's a sad moment, but it's good to hear your voice again.

AMANPOUR: Well, thank you, sir. Please tell me and tell the world what you feel at this moment beyond the sadness and what you can say about the man who became your partner and you became his under extremely difficult circumstances to transform your country.

DE KLERK: First I would like to say that I fully associate myself with the dignified and feeling statement which President Jacob Zuma has made. Every word of what he said is true and he touched my heart.

His biggest -- Nelson Mandela's biggest legacy was his commitment to reconciliation, was his remarkable lack of bitterness and the way in which he did not only talk about reconciliation but he made reconciliation happen in South Africa. He was a remarkable man and South Africa notwithstanding political differences stands united today in mourning this great, special man.

AMANPOUR: Mr. De Klerk, what -- what did -- walk me back to when you summoned him from the (INAUDIBLE) prison, when you first met him. Why did you do that? What was going on then and what did you think of him when he came into your presence the first time?

DE KLERK: That first meeting that we had was intended, and I think he had the same intention, just to get a feel of each other, because it was already clear then that there would be negotiations. It was already clear that he would be released. No dates were fixed, no specific announcements were made, but he has been talking even in the time of my predecessor, P.W. Botha, through four important role players within the government and the National Party.

Having talks about talks, discussing the possibility of negotiation, not talking about the real issues which would be negotiated about later on, but exploring the possibility of negotiation. And both of us after that first meeting wrote in our respective autobiographies that we could report back to our constituencies I think I can do business with this man.

There was an immediate I would say a spark between the two of us and notwithstanding the many spats we had later, I always respected him and I always liked him as a person. He was -- he was a magnanimous person, he was a compassionate person. He was not only a man of vision, he was not only a great leader, but he was also a very human, human man.

AMANPOUR: In the end, you both won the Nobel Peace Prize for that work, for bringing democracy to South Africa, but there you were, the white president of a minority regime and this towering moral figure came into your presence. What did you feel when you first saw him? What did he look like?

DE KLERK: I was -- I studied a lot about him and I was briefed by those who were speaking to him while he was still in prison, but he impressed me tremendously. He was taller than I expected. He was ramrod straight. He looked one in the eye very directly. He was a good listener. I could immediately see that he had an analytical approach to discussions which I liked very much. I was very much impressed with him at that first meeting.

AMANPOUR: And his close associates said that throughout his time in prison as the years went on, he knew that you had to get into the mindset, you had to understand the mindset of the white man. He obviously spoke Afrikans, he learned all those languages and he knew you as well as he knew himself.

DE KLERK: It's absolutely true. I would agree with that. I wasn't there to hear it myself, but from what we know of Nelson Mandela, I can understand that and I accept that. In the end, we would not have had successful negotiations if from both sides and from other sides, this attitude of understanding the concerns of your interlocutor and making effort to accommodate those concerns.

This, he did in a marvelous way with the concerns of my constituency, and we also from our side tried to understand the concerns of him and the ANC and to accommodate those concerns, and all this resulted in a remarkable compromise through a process of give and take.

AMANPOUR: And indeed the compromise continued with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is a majority which could have been baying for justice, baying for blood and Nelson Mandela said no, we are going to have a truth and reconciliation committee.

Did that impress you, the way he was not out for blood, not out for vengeance?

DE KLERK: Absolutely. There is no question, as I said earlier, that his biggest legacy was his emphasis on reconciliation. His emphasis on what he used to say South Africa is there for all its people, black, white and all South Africans should feel at home. He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard, beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy.

AMANPOUR: President De Klerk, thank you so much. It's very late your time. And thank you for giving us the first reaction to the passing of your old comrade-in-arms on the road to democracy. Thank you very much indeed.

And, Wolf, going back to you now --

DE KLERK: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And not forgetting, Wolf, that it actually was the United States, the people of the United States, all those people on college campuses, all the people that Ambassador Andrew Young told you about, who struggled against Apartheid and insisted on the sanctions and divestment over the objections of the then Reagan administration, and that had a massive effect of concentrating the minds of the Apartheid leaders at that time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly did. And F.W. de Klerk remembers those days. He was the president of South Africa and he helped make that transition when he saw the handwriting on the wall, and then as you pointed out with him back in 1993, both he and Nelson Mandela shared that Nobel Peace Prize.

We just got a statement, Christiane, in from former President Bill Clinton on the passing of Nelson Mandela. Let me just read it to our viewers because he truly did love Nelson Mandela. "Today, the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings. And Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend.

"History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Graca and his family and to the people of South Africa.

"All of us are living in a better world because of the life of Madiba, the life that Madiba lived." Madiba was his clan name, his traditional name. "He proved that there was freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind and that life's real victories must be shared."

Donna -- Donna Brazile is here.

Nelson Mandela, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, what was going on in South Africa, you and I are old enough to remember those days, the role and, as Christiane accurately points out, that all of us played in trying to move South Africa in a better direction. You remember those days very vividly.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the Apartheid regime was a brutal regime. It was a violent regime. And the goal of folks in America, especially young people, was to educate, was to mobilize and to get more sanctions, to get corporations doing business in South Africa to put pressure on the South African government.

Clearly it worked, because after years and years of struggle, finally in 1990, we broke the Apartheid regime but it was a long and brutal struggle.

BLITZER: Here's a picture, Donna. Take a look at this. You see that picture, tell our viewers, give us the background of that photo.

BRAZILE: Well, Mr. Mandela came to the United States to attend the Clinton inaugural. He was very close to the Clinton family. In fact the Clintons visited the Mandelas early this year and last year, when Secretary of State Clinton also visited South Africa before she left office, but he wanted to participate. He wanted to know more about how we ran campaigns here in the United States. He wanted to be part of the celebration, because he had a great deal of respect.

And I was on along with my friend Yolanda Caraway to escort him to the D.C. inaugural ball. He wanted to get around and see the city.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers a tweet the former President Bill Clinton just tweeted. "I will never forget my friend, Madiba," and then he posted this picture. You could see he's holding his hand, the love there between the former president and what was going on.

David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain is now speaking.

I think we're going to try to fix that audio. And once we do, fix the audio, we'll hear David Cameron, the British prime minister. He's paying his respects over at -- in London right now once we've fixed that little technical problem, we'll hear what he has to say. He's paying his respects.

I want to show our viewers some video. This is video of February 11th, 1990. Right now a very, very special day. This is Nelson Mandela released from prison after 27 years. Almost 20 of those years at Robben Island. A brutal captivity.

He was amazing because shortly after, Donna Brazile, as you're watching this video of Nelson Mandela on February 11th, 1990, leaving that prison and beginning a political -- I guess, a revolution in South Africa, a peaceful revolution, so many people thought it would be brutal and violent. Because of this man, it was peaceful.

BRAZILE: He said if you want to make peace with the enemy, you have to work with the enemy. You have to become a partner. He believed in reconciliation. He also believed that the nation itself could draw strength from seeing him work with President De Klerk. So Mandela became a symbol of reconciliation, a symbol of hope to bring that divided nation, you know, together at a time when most people didn't think it could come back together.

BLITZER: So many people will want to go to South Africa, Donna, right now to pay their personal respects. I assume over these next 10 days of the official memorial, if you will, and they've plotted out certain steps every single day that they will be taking to remember Nelson Mandela. So many folks will just want to be there and live through these next 10 days.

BRAZILE: I talked to the Ambassador Patrick Gaspar --

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador to South Africa.

BRAZILE: U.S. ambassador to South Africa, and I said, you better open up some extra bedrooms. And clearly there are so many people here in this country who knows the Mandela family, they're friends with him. I think of people like Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte, I think of Oprah Winfrey. And many, many others who clearly have worked with Nelson Mandela, worked with the Mandela Foundation to continue his legacy. And I'm sure they will want to be a part of the celebration because it will be a celebration of his life.

BLITZER: I just want to listen in. These are live pictures we're getting in from Johannesburg.

All right. Let's go to Robyn Curnow, she's in Johannesburg. She's watching all of this going on.

Robyn, give us a little background. These folks are really excited. They're paying their respects to a great, great man.

CURNOW: The words of that song that you heard them singing over and over again, it's been sung in the last six months across South Africa. "Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, there's no one else like you."

There's not much else to say, is there? And it's also very interesting. It's an old anti-Apartheid struggle song. So this song has carried through generations of activists in this country. It was no doubt illegal during the Apartheid days. It was like a rallying cry to Nelson Mandela in those days when he was locked up in jail. Nobody has seen his face. There was a sense that he was cut off from the revolution.

And it became a war cry, it became a lament, it became a memory for people to sing over and over against the same words, "Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, there's no one like you." And in the last year particularly we've seen that song become kind of the call of thanks. It was sung a lot outside the hospital when these night vigils like this emerged when he was battling that lung infection in hospitals for three months.

It really has become such a simple acknowledgment of a man whose life was so great, so extraordinary, and as Barack Obama said, arch -- you know, it was the arch of history that defines his life. And also I think what's key about these images that you're seeing on your screen now is that it's a mixed South Africa. You can see white people and black people, young and old, who've come to pay their respects.

And I think that has been so key to Nelson Mandela. You'll hear it over and over again. And it might sound a bit trite, the issue of reconciliation. But I cannot overemphasize enough how Nelson Mandela, the symbol of him, the small acts that he knew would have great consequences, that every act that he did by looking someone in the eye, by thanking them, by making sure white Afrikaners were included, by making sure the Zulu nation was not alienated.

Political acts on the grant theater of politics. But he was really a master at acknowledging that small acts can have great consequences. And you're seeing it now because every single one -- everyone person in this country will be there today, whether they're physically there or whether they're singing that song in their hearts and their homes by themselves. And they know it, there's no one like him.

BLITZER: When I was there a couple of years ago, Robyn, it seemed to me -- but you lived there, so you have a much better sense that all of those ugly vestiges of Apartheid were gone. And people were going into restaurants, they were going on buses, they were doing everything together. But give us a little sense how the country is today.

CURNOW: South Africa is complicated, complex, rich country of diversity. And I think Nelson Mandela recognized that very early on. There are 11 official languages. There is still huge discrepancies between white and black, particularly between rich and poor. One of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the world here. So there really is still a country grappling with what it is and what it's become, but fundamentally, this is a democracy, and it's a country where even though people have differences, they acknowledge that everybody has a right to be here.

And I think the spirit of Mandela still very much pervades through ordinary people's lives. He's become sort of a cheerleader, even though he's been out of the political arena for many years now, I mean, he really is a symbol, a vision of what this country has become and what it can become, because of course there's still a lot of work to be done. But no doubt, I mean, the country that he inherited in 1994 was a broken, dark desperate place.

And he really acknowledged this need to be a glue to differences, is what Graca Machel, his wife, told me once. He really understood how to bring different people together. And again, I know when I've spoken to his family, they say that harks back to his deep love and understanding of tribal politics. He grew up in those rural areas, listening to the elders, to the chiefs, sit under a tree and discuss problems. And he became very good at listening and understanding differences, and then he would get this big tent approach and bring people in.

He was a -- he was a very, very smart, wise visionary leader, and I think that is also what's key when we look at the greater picture and the personal picture of Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: Robyn Curnow, stay with us.

Our continuing coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela resumes right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.