Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Former South African President Nelson Mandela Dies at 95; Mandela's Life Celebrated Around the World; Bernice King Talks about Nelson Mandela
Aired December 5, 2013 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world as we remember Nelson Mandela. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.
We're learning new details about tributes to South Africa's first black president, and President Obama's plans to attend a memorial service for one of his personal heroes, an iconic leader who transformed his country and, indeed, inspired people all over the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture from South Africa where it's 6:00 a.m. right now. Many people are just waking up to the news of Nelson Mandela's death.
No single person has changed that country more than the former prisoner who became president, and few people are as beloved around the world as a symbol of both freedom and forgiveness.
Mandela's life and legacy are being celebrated this hour at the South African embassy here in Washington, D.C., at the Apollo Theater in New York City and, indeed, all across the United States and around the world.
Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in 1990, after 27 year, brutal years behind bars, jailed for his fight to end South Africa's system of racial segregation, known as apartheid. Only a few years later, Mandela was elected president in the first fully democratic vote in South Africa's history. Nelson Mandela was 95 years old. The Nobel Peace Prize winner died today after a long illness.
Tonight, CNN is bringing you team coverage of this legendary leader, his life and death, and the reaction around the world. Here in our studio, we're joined by the South African ambassador to the United States; as well as the long-time CNN anchor, Bernie Shaw. He conducted a remarkable interview with Nelson Mandela, an interview you haven't seen since 1994. But first, let's go to CNN's Robyn Curnow in Johannesburg, South Africa, right now.
Robyn set the scene. It's a new day in South Africa. People right now just waking up. What's the latest?
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many South Africans will be getting that news on their radio in remote rural areas. Some will pick up a paper on their way to catch a train into work. Others will have picked it up on social media. But today is the first day in South Africa's democratic history that South Africans will be without the man that they knew as the father of this nation. He went -- the announcement that he died came just before midnight on Thursday South African time. Jacob Zuma confirming that he had slipped away after a long illness. This was not a surprise. As we all know, he's been gravely ill with this lung infection. And I think towards the end, the drugs, the antibiotics just didn't work. His body, just too frail. And he's surrounded by his family, we understand.
But I think what is key, moving on now, we know Nelson Mandela's body has been moved from his home to a mortuary in Pretoria, in a military hospital in Pretoria. It will stay there for the next few days where it will be embalmed. The next time you'll see him in the casket will be at a memorial service in the FMB Stadium, the Soccer City Stadium where the World Cup final was played, where there'll be a big public memorial.
But I think for now, we know also that not just his family has he been surrounded by but also tribal leaders, elders from his community who will be following him all the way, explaining to his body, to his departing spirit what is going on. So there'll be this very traditional mix to this as well as Western funeral traditions over the next 10 days of mourning. We're going to see a lot of tribal traditional rituals that will be played out here this South Africa.
BLITZER: And it will culminate with a state funeral within those 10 days, at the end of those 10 days.
Robyn, we'll get back to you.
President Obama called the South African President Jacob Zuma tonight to offer America's condolences.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now from the White House.
I assume at some point the White House will announce the president will go to South Africa to pay his personal respects.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They haven't announced all the details yet, Wolf. But officials here at the White House say they are working on the details, that President Obama's expected trip to South Africa to join that nation and the world in honoring Nelson Mandela. The president, as you mentioned, Wolf, called South African President Jacob Zuma to offer his condolences and he ordered flags around the United States and in U.S. installations around the world lowered to half-staff in honor of the South African icon.
Earlier this evening, after his earlier statements in the briefing room, President Obama commented again on Mandela's influence in the world at a Hanukkah reception at the White House.
Here's what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Obviously, on a note of seriousness, tonight, our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family in South Africa. They're grieving the loss of a man, a moral giant who embodied the dignity and the courage and the hope, and sought to bring about justice, not only in South Africa but I think to inspire millions around the world, and he did that, the idea that every single human being ought to be free, and that oppression can end and justice can prevail.
And that's what --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now we know Nelson Mandela was a big political inspiration for President Obama. But given that, it is remarkable to point out, Wolf, that President Obama and Nelson Mandela have only met face-to- face one time. Take a look at this. Here's a photograph we can show you of the two men together back in 2005. Barack Obama had only been a U.S. Senator for a few months. Nelson Mandela was in Washington. He reached out to Mr. Obama and said, I'd like to meet you. And they basically -- officials on both sides arranged this sort of impromptu visit between the two men, when the Senator, at the time, Senator Barack Obama was on his way to an event.
Now, flash forward to this year, President Obama wanted to visit Nelson Mandela during a trip to South Africa last summer. But because of Mandela's poor health, that didn't happen. The president, though, did honor the South African leader by visiting the Robben Island Prison. It's was one of the more stirring images of that trip, where Mandela was confined for 18 years of his 27 years of captivity.
Add to all of that, Wolf, the fact that the president's first political act -- he mentioned this earlier today -- was attending an anti-apartheid rally when he was a college student. Safe to say that this upcoming trip for the president will be very important to him. He's called Mandela one of his heroes. But more critically, as one White House official said to me earlier this evening, the upcoming services honoring the life of Mandela will be an important moment for the world.
And, Wolf, given something of this scale and this magnitude I'm hearing from a variety of officials that, don't be surprised if you see something along the lines of a major U.S. delegation going to South Africa that includes not only living presidents that are capable of going, of course, and then, of course, some major U.S. dignitaries that might be joining the president as well. It's going to be a very, very big deal -- Wolf?
BLITZER: And many dignitaries from the United States. But, indeed, leaders from around the world will be in South Africa as well.
Jim Acosta, thank you.
Let's bring in the South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, who is joining us right now.
Mr. Ambassador, I want to convey, once again, our condolences to you and to all the people of South Africa.
You're making plans, in addition for what's going to happen in South Africa, for a major memorial service here in Washington, D.C., is that right?
EBRAHIM RASOOL, SOUTH AFRICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: It's absolutely right, Wolf. I think that the idea of a Washington memorial is really gaining momentum. And I've been in touch with our consulates in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, our honorary consuls from across the country, and I've been in meetings tonight with the trade union movement, the anti-apartheid movement, people from Congress and the city and so forth. I think that we are witnessing one of the most remarkable upwellings of love and support and admiration, who want to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. So we will play a part in Washington, D.C. But I think that this thing is really grabbing the attention of people across the United States. And it should. Because I think that the United States citizenry have played such an enormous role in the anti-apartheid struggle, in the struggle to free Nelson Mandela. It was a battle by the citizens who forced even the White House to come to understand who Nelson Mandela was and why they should be on the right side of history. And so we owe it to the people of the United States to give them the avenues for their grief and the avenues for their tribute.
BLITZER: And it will be a major memorial.
Mr. Ambassador, I know you're going to stay with us through the hour. So don't go away. We have many more issues to discuss, many more questions.
The ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool, will be here.
Up next, we'll also go live to Harlem in New York City for reaction to Nelson Mandela's death and his impact on the cause of civil rights in the United States and around the world.
And Nelson Mandela told CNN veteran, Bernie Shaw, how he wanted to be remembered after his death. Bernie is here. We'll bring you some of that very emotional interview just before Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: I, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, do hereby swear to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and do solemnly and sincerely promise at all times to promote that which will advance and to oppose all that may harm the republic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Looking at live pictures from Soweto in South Africa where people are celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. The world is paying contribute to the great South Africa leader as well, including a tribute under way over at the historic Apollo Theater in New York City, a legendary center of African-American culture. Tonight, it's honoring Nelson Mandela.
CNN's Don Lemon is in Harlem. He's outside the Apollo Theater right now.
So tell our viewers, Don, the reaction coming out of where you are.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Almost immediately, Wolf, people started to react here. And it was really apropos. Because after Nelson Mandela got out of prison for 27 years, one of the first places he came was to here in Harlem. And so the first people to pay tribute really to him were people here in Harlem.
I just want to show you the iconic marquee of the Apollo Theater, back in 1990, when Nelson Mandela and his then-wife win any visited here in Harlem. It says, "To Mr. and Mrs. Mandela, welcome home. We love you. We love you. We love you". Now you see, tonight, the sign that says, "In memory of Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013. He changed our world." And he certainly did.
This evening, Wolf, I have been going all throughout Harlem and people have been telling me about their memories of Nelson Mandela. And even those who weren't old enough to remember him coming here to Harlem, they talked about studying him in school. And one young man saying, "I didn't know anything about apartheid. I knew nothing about racism. And one day, we had this exercise in our class and someone taught me about Nelson Mandela. And it was then I knew that I had a voice." And that's the legacy that Nelson Mandela will leave on the world -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. He was released from prison in 1990, and he came to Harlem not that long afterwards for that very important visit.
Don, thank you very much.
We're joined now by CNN pioneer, the veteran anchor, my former colleague, Bernard Shaw, who is here with us as well.
Bernie, thanks very much for coming in.
You had a powerful interview in 1994 when you went to South Africa. You interviewed Nelson Mandela at that time. I want to play a few clips and then we'll discuss. Here's the first one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BERNIE SHAW, CNN VETERAN CORRESPONDENT: Everyone is curious about you. You have one cavity filling. You're 75 years old. Your body has many muscles. Your smile is earnest. But your eyes and your mind come from the ages. Who are you?
MANDELA: Well, this is a difficult question. I have not been able to answer it. But I am part and parcel of a team which has been part of the broad anti-apartheid movement in this country. And there are many men and women from different political affiliations who have contributed to this struggle. I am one of those. I would like to be remembered not as anybody unique or special but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years for decades and even centuries to bring about this day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was quite a little clip. You remember that day pretty vividly. He had a powerful impact on your life.
SHAW: I remember it fully, Wolf. We did the interview in a hotel suite. And President Mandela, soon to become the president --
BLITZER: This is just before his inauguration.
SHAW: Just before his inauguration. We had a chance to talk for about 10 minutes. He spoke about the long years of struggle. What he didn't say is that this man, on Robben Island, struggled for nearly three decades, honing his strategy. And he knew that inclusivity, including everybody, had to be the way to go. That's why, when he came out, he was able to garner the support of whites. He did not denounce whites. He made many gestures to include them in the run up to what we know today as South Africa.
BLITZER: No revenge, no bitterness. An amazing man.
SHAW: None of that. He knew that was the secret.
BLITZER: Yeah. Let me play another clip from your interview with Nelson Mandela.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAW: You, sir, and I, are citizens of countries in which political violence has taken a dastardly toll. I'm thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, in my country, President John Kennedy, his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. My question is, what happens if something happens to you between now and inauguration day or even after?
MANDELA: We do not think in terms of individuals. We are a team. We have been brought up in the tradition of a collective leadership. Leaders come and go. But the organization with its collective continues. I have no concept at all that if a particular individual is not available there will be an interruption or changes in the policies of the organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: I remember those days like you do. And we were all worried that someone would go after him.
SHAW: It was presumed that it might happen. He said leaders come and go. What he didn't say is that some leaders remain in history forever. That was Nelson Mandela.
BLITZER: An amazing man. I'd like to play this third clip and then we'll talk about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAW: If you are elected, once taking office, what will be your first, your very first official act?
MANDELA: Well, I don't think that I can look at this office from the point of view of what my first act would be. We are concerned with addressing the pressing basic needs of the majority of the people and to raise them to the same level as their white counterparts in this country. That is a colossal program in which the priorities will be determined by the resources at our disposal. And it is what we will address at the time when we launch the Reconstruction and Development Program. And we will work out our priorities then. Except to say that we regard the provision of jobs, of housing, the free quality education as being at the top of our list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Bernie, did you realize how powerful, how important, what a historic figure he was when you sat down with him in 1994?
SHAW: No, I did not. I had an appreciation but I did not realize the intensity and the gravity of his presence, not only as a human being but as a leader. One word sticks out in my mind about Nelson Mandela and what he was striving for. The word is very simply "parity." Parity. He wanted parity for all South Africans. And he put his nation on the road to that parity. He knew it wouldn't happen in his lifetime but his contribution was seminal.
BLITZER: If anyone had justification for revenge and bitterness -- 27 years he spent in prison in awful, awful conditions, what, 17 years on Robben Island. And I saw that little cell there. And yet, he said, you know what, South Africa needs everyone. We need a new South Africa, a democratic South Africa where everyone can be free and participate in a democracy.
SHAW: Indeed, Wolf. And we must remember, when you have almost three decades to sit at night in a cell, to think, to envision what you want for yourself, your family and your country, you become very refined in your objective. He once said that hatred clouds and fogs the mind. He did away with hatred. He wanted to be inclusive. So when he got out, he was forgiving. He did not forget. Never forget. But he was forgiving.
BLITZER: Bernie, you're going to stay with us for the hour as well, right? SHAW: I'm your guest. I'm your friend. I'm here for the duration.
BLITZER: Good to have Bernard Shaw here in our studios at CNN.
Thank you. Don't go away.
President Obama paid a very moving tribute to Nelson Mandela from the White House. We're going to hear what the president of the United States had to say.
And I'll talk live to the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, sharing her memories of Nelson Mandela.
But first, the words of Mandela himself on the day of his release after 27 years in prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANDELA: I have fought against white domination.
MANDELA: And I have fought against black domination.
MANDELA: I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and fair society in which all persons live together in harmony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As we reported earlier, plans are now being made for President Obama to travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service. And the president has directed that flags in the United States be flown at half-staff in Nelson Mandela's honor until Monday.
Earlier, he paid an emotional tribute to Nelson Mandela from the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his 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 needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
And 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.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here is a picture of then-Senator Barack Obama meeting with Nelson Mandela at a conference here in Washington back in 2005. It was the only time they met. President Obama was in South Africa earlier this year, but Nelson Mandela was seriously ill and they did not get a chance to meet then.
Bernice King is the daughter of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She's joining us on the phone right now.
Dr. King, thanks very much for joining us.
Tell us about the impact, the role that Nelson Mandela had on your dad.
DR. BERNICE KING, DAUGHTER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (voice-over): Well, my father, unfortunately, didn't get an opportunity to meet Mr. Mandela. But there was a bond in their freedom struggle, the struggles we were fighting for in America and the struggle they were fighting for in South Africa.
Ironically, next year, we'll be celebrating the 60th anniversary of daddy receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. And just a few days before delivering his speech, he arrived in London and called for a worldwide movement of economic sanctions and for the fact that Nelson Mandela was languishing in prison. And so he identified with the South African struggle, the apartheid struggle obviously, and saw it uniquely and intimately similar to our struggle in America.
BLITZER: Yes, he did indeed. Your mother, Dr. King, recalled there was a picture of Nelson Mandela when he came to the United States, and he laid a wreath at your father's grave. There's the picture right there. Tell us about that day.
KING: It was a very exciting day. I certainly looked forward to meeting him. He had been in prison all of my life. I was 27 at the same time that he had been in prison for 27 years. And for many of us who were a part of that whole anti-apartheid movement, I was arrested a few times. One time with my mother protesting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., this was a very special and exciting moment, because it was a feeling of triumph that the very thing that we had been struggling for, fighting for, that we didn't know when there would be any kind of positive outcome.
It gave us an extraordinary feeling to see him live and in person and coming to pay tribute to my father at that time. It was very meaningful. My mother in fact chaired the hostess committee when he came to Atlanta in 1990. We had private moments with him in her office at the King Center and just extraordinary man, a gentle giant. He's the kind of individual that the words that he spoke were so profoundly challenging to your spirit. And we don't see those types of leaders in our society today.
BLITZER: Bernice King, thanks so much for your reflections on this day. Dr. Martin Luther King's daughter Bernice King joining us.
Let's bring back the South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool along with my former colleague and good friend CNN anchor, former anchor, Bernard Shaw and also joining us the Washington, D.C. Congressional Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton. It's such a powerful moment not only in American history, South African history, but in world history right now. What did Nelson Mandela mean to you?
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C. DELEGATE: Well, he meant so much to me. I was a part of the Free South Africa Movement here in the United States.
BLITZER: I remember those days.
NORTON: How many leaders in a foreign country could have inspired people in the United States?
BLITZER: Remind our viewers what it was like, that movement.
NORTON: That movement first was small. It began with people seeking to have their own legislatures sanction or keep from buying anything related to South Africa, engaged in their pension funds and the like. But in 1984 around Thanksgiving, four of us went into the South African Embassy under false presences and actually it wasn't really to free Nelson Mandela. We didn't have the hubris to believe that that's what we could do.
But there were trade unionists who were being held incommunicado, but we went in to speak about progress in South Africa. And by prearrangement, I said that I had to leave about 45 minutes into the meeting. That was in order to go out and tell the picket line that had already formed also by prearrangement that the three were not coming out.
And of course, that meant I had to be arrested later, but what happened was virtually spontaneous, people from around the country, the well-known, the little-known, the unknown came in order to be arrested, in order to eliminate apartheid.
BLITZER: Bernie, you remember covering those protests, the impact. They started relatively small, but they had an enormous impact obviously on what was going on in South Africa and the ambassador will weigh in on this in a second, but it had an enormous impact here.
BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Indeed they did. And they might have seemed routine on the pages of the "Washington Times" and the "Washington Post," but they were kind of bedrock to what was happening in terms of the grassroots organizing that was underfoot. BLITZER: How aware were you in South Africa of the protests, the demonstrations that were going on here in the United States, Mr. Ambassador?
EBRAHIM RASOOL, SOUTH AFRICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: We lived under successive states of emergency. It was a complete news blackout. Many of us had not seen the face of Nelson Mandela. Not allowed to fly the colors of the African National Congress. But when we saw what was happening out in places like Washington, D.C. and London, and heard that people like Stevie Wonder was being arrested outside the embassy and great companies like Kodak were disinvesting from South Africa and banks were placed under pressure, it gave us the courage to face whatever odds the state of emergency would give us.
Because then we knew that we were going to be free, that when it was a matter for debate in the Congress of the United States, when every day, day in and day out in London and in Washington the great capitals of the world, people were giving themselves up for arrest, we then knew that it was a matter of time.
RASOOL: And lastly, when this movement got President Reagan to change his mind, then the last bastion of support for apartheid South Africa fell, and that was the decisive moment.
SHAW: As the ambassador speaks about the fight for freedom, and you, Congresswoman, I was just thinking about your interview, Wolf, with Dr. Bernice King. Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King were cell mates, he in a Birmingham jail, he in Robben Island jail.
BLITZER: And they both sort of helped each other. They both worked on each other's mission. There's a bond there. There's a link between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela even though they never met.
NORTON: They never met and King was assassinated long before --
BLITZER: In 1968.
NORTON: Yes, before Mandela was released from prison, but Mandela read about Martin Luther King. Mandela did not go into Rrobben Island a nonviolent man. He came out of Robben Island intent somehow upon bringing his country together in a peaceful revolution. This was a racially torn society. The whole notion that it could come together in peace to solve that problem was beyond anyone's imagination. He did it.
BLITZER: I assume there'll be a huge congressional delegation that will want to go to South Africa.
BLITZER: Have you been hearing about that already?
NORTON: Well, remember, Congress is gone at the moment when this occurred.
BLITZER: For this, many members will want to join in the president and go to South Africa.
NORTON: There will be an official delegation.
BLITZER: Have you decided what day the memorial service in Washington will be and where it will take place, Mr. Ambassador?
RASOOL: We are meeting with the Washington Cathedral tomorrow morning to finalize the plans.
BLITZER: The National Cathedral here in Washington?
RASOOL: The National Cathedral in Washington. We are hoping that they will accede to Wednesday morning. This gives enough people enough time to get out to South Africa if they need to and pay a proper tribute to Nelson Mandela.
NORTON: I'm sure the president will want to be there.
BLITZER: Unless he's in South Africa already by then. We'll see when he's going to South Africa.
SHAW: And many thousands of people who would want to be there obviously going to not be able to get through.
BLITZER: But they can see it on television. All right, Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us. Once again our deepest condolences to all the people of South Africa on this huge, huge loss. Eleanor Holmes Norton as usual, thank you very much for sharing some thoughts on this very special day.
Bernie, you're going to stay with us. The first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, and a former first lady, Hillary Clinton, they're among those paying tribute to Nelson Mandela on social media tonight along with so many others. We're going to show you what's going on. That's coming up next.
Plus CNN's Christiane Amanpour and once again, Bernie Shaw, our former anchor, they're both standing by as our special coverage continues. But first, Nelson Mandela speaking as he retired from public life back in 2004.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON MANDELA: Don't call me. I'll call you. Seriously, therefore, my public activities will as of today be significantly and severely reduced, which I trust people understand our considerations and will grant us the opportunity for a much quieter life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Take a look at this moving tribute to Nelson Mandela "The New Yorker" magazine. It's entitled Madiba, Mandela's tribal name. The artist says it's meant to represent the young Mandela at a time when he was on trial. "Time" magazine has a tribute cover that has three words to sum up Mandela's life, protester, prisoner and peacemaker.
Joining us now on the phone is the Democratic congressman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. What does Nelson Mandela mean to you?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D-MARYLAND (via telephone): Well, he is the symbol of freedom for me. I'll never forget when he came in 2005 and was with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And he talked about when he stepped out of prison and how he had been imprisoned. And while he was coming out he said I wanted to be free. I wanted to truly be free.
And the ability of this great man to spend the time that he spent in prison to go through all that he went through and to then come out, become the president and to create of all things, Wolf, a body that dealt with forgiveness and reconciliation, only Mandela could pull that off. I mean if you really think about it, here was a people who had been treated very, very badly.
And yet and still, because of his -- because of who he was, and because of all he had been through, and because he had that desire to free his country so that it could go into the future and have a bright future, his example and then the time he spent making all that happen going to affect generations yet unborn. And he certainly did inspire my life and inspired so many others.
BLITZER: Well said, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, thank you so much. Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour along with our former CNN anchor, Bernie Shaw. Christiane, I want to show viewers a picture of Nelson Mandela's prison cell back in 1977. This is video of that prison cell where he spent on Robben Island what about 17 years, spent what 27 years in prison all together. And he came out amazingly without bitterness, without anger. He wanted to build a new South africa. It's pretty amazing when you think about it -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. And like many of you, we've all paid our pilgrimage to Robben Island and be to that prison cell. It does concentrate your mind. Look at that picture of him with his glasses on. He was said to have really injured his eyes with the glare of that rock quarry work that he had to do out there. And of course, his lungs were devastated, too, and hence his lengthy illnesses.
Now what people have said he did not have bitterness or hate, he simply decided that he wasn't going to give into it. Of course, he had bitterness and resentment. He even said it himself for the undignified way with which he was treated. But he did not allow that to shape his future and his promise for the country. And it's incredible to hear people who say that he was the prisoner and yet he stamped his authority on the prison just by his own steely courtesy and his dignity and his refusal to be dismissed by those guards. He kept his dignity and forced respect from his adversaries, from his enemies, from his jailers and eventually from the white minority, and was able to bring down apartheid with F.W. De Klerk.
BLITZER: This is video from 1977. We weren't allowed to show it until Nelson Mandela passed away. Now we're showing it to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. In 1977, he wasn't released from prison until 1990. So this is pretty dramatic.
SHAW: And this man, to follow on what Christiane has just said, this man took his anger, and if he had hatred he certainly concealed it. He took it and he fashioned it into moral force. That was the majesty of what he did when he came out.
BLITZER: What was his impact, Christiane, not only in South Africa or here in the United States but indeed around the world?
AMANPOUR: Well, massive. Around the world absolutely staggering and really massive, and I'm sure you've read so many people are asked who is your favorite leader? Who is your hero? Everybody says Nelson Mandela because he embodies that moral courage, greater even than physical courage, and that ability to put aside his own bitterness, resentment, sacrifice and all that he lost over those 27 years and all the majority of the people there lost in that undignified and appalling racist regime.
And built a future of tolerance and democracy, and that is quite incredible and so people really do say that he is their hero and tributes are being paid from, as you know, from down street, from all over the world. I spoke to F.W. De Klerk, the former president. He said that he was a very, very good man to negotiate with. He really respected him. He was surprised the first time he met him because Mandela was so tall and dignified and ram rod straight, he said. And they had a decent working relationship. Not without its arguments and spats.
BLITZER: Certainly not without that. Christiane, Bernie, stand by. Up next, there's a huge reaction on social media to Nelson Mandela's death. Political figures and celebrities around the world, they are mourning and they are remembering.
BLITZER: Reaction to Nelson Mandela's death is pouring in from leaders around the world. CNN's Joe Johns covered Mandela both here in Washington as well as in South Africa. So Joe, what are the folks out there, celebrities and others saying?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Just a real outpouring throughout the evening, Wolf. Reactions coming in from all over the world have been voluminous to say the least. Vice President Biden this evening in a statement saying in the hands of Nelson Mandela hope and history rhymed. This is a better world because Nelson Mandela was in it.
This evening we heard from First Lady Michelle Obama who said on Twitter, "We will forever draw strength and inspiration from Nelson Mandela's extraordinary example of moral courage and kindness and humility."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who also travelled to South Africa as first lady in the 90s said "Nelson Mandela was a champion for justice and human dignity with unmatched grace. I'll remember him as Madiba, truly an unconquerable soul."
BLITZER: People all over the world are remembering him with wonderful, wonderful thoughts. Joe, thanks very much. Bernard Shaw is still with us. Bernie, give us a little final thought on what Nelson Mandela meant to you.
SHAW: He meant the world to me. I trusted him. I loved him. I adored him. I respected him. Why? Because he lived and led the way we would want to.
BLITZER: He inspired you as he inspired so many millions of people all over the world. But you had a chance to get to know him personally a little bit. You spent some time with him and he was such a powerful figure. You spent time with him on the eve of his inauguration as president of South Africa.
SHAW: Yes, I did. But I go back to this capital city here in Washington when president and Mrs. Clinton hosted the state dinner at the White House. Later, Prince Mandar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador had a huge party at his residence. Linda, my wife, we saw him as he worked his way through the tables. And he said, there you are. He said, taking my wife's hands, he said, I see and I know now where your success comes from, a great sense of humor.
BLITZER: Amazing man.
SHAW: He was right about Linda, too.
BLITZER: Of course I know Linda. She's a wonderful lady. And Bernie, it's good to have you back in the chair at CNN. Bernie Shaw, always good to have him covering these kinds of stories. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. CNN's special coverage continues right after this.