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Nelson Mandela Dies

Aired December 5, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the sad breaking news, the death of an iconic leader, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who went from being a political prisoner to becoming the nation's first black president. We heard the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, announce Nelson Mandela's death just a little while ago.


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


BLITZER: Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela died today after a very long illness. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a leader of the fight to end South Africa's racial system of segregation known as apartheid.

He was branded a dangerous revolutionary by the white-led government, spent 27 years behind bars. His historic election as president of South Africa in 1994 was an inspiration in the battle for racial equality around the world, and the once controversial freedom fighter became a beloved figure around the world as well.

President Obama explained how he personally was influenced by Nelson Mandela.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward 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.


BLITZER: And only moments ago, the British prime minister, David Cameron, said this:


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Tonight, one of the brightest lights of our world has gone out.

Nelson Mandela was not just a hero of our time, but a hero of all time, the first president of a free South Africa, a man who suffered so much for freedom and justice, and a man who through his dignity and through his triumph inspired millions.

The strongest impression of all, when you met him, was of his extraordinary compassion and generosity and forgiveness. Tonight, families across Britain will mourn with his family, and everyone in South Africa.

Your greatest son has moved millions, and I believe that his inspiration for the future will be every bit as powerful as the extraordinary things that he achieved in his remarkable life.

Thank you.


BLITZER: The British prime minister, David Cameron, like so many world leaders, paying his respects, his country's respects to this great leader Nelson Mandela, who passed away today at the age of 95, after a very, very long illness.

CNN is using its global resources to bring you team coverage of this legendary leader, his life, his death, and the reaction around the world.

Robyn Curnow, you see her in the center there, Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria.

Let's go quickly back, Robyn, to you. Tell our views. It's now after, what, 1:00 a.m. in South Africa, but people are out in the streets and they're paying their respects.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, and they're sings that anti-apartheid song, "Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, there's no one like you."

And also just remember like Nelson Mandela himself, South Africans are pretty pragmatic. They have known at least for the last six months that he was gravely ill. And I think when you have spoken to people in the supermarkets or there was another health care, I think a lot of South African have said, let him go, I wish he would go, it's time, Tata needs to rest, father needs to rest.

I think there's been a slow realization in this country that this was inevitable and that the time was going to be soon. So I think you won't see huge outpourings of trauma or, you know, overemotional. I think you will see South Africans quietly gracious, quietly thankful. I think you will see -- sing songs. South Africans sometimes sing their way through the saddest of times.

So you will see these images of people coming together. It might look like they're celebrating, but that's the way it's done here. There's a sense that this is going to be a community effort. A community, a village is going to send Nelson Mandela home. That village is more than 40 million South Africans. They will come together and they will do it with dignity. And I think they will do it with a great sense of thankfulness.

BLITZER: Let me bring Christiane Amanpour into this conversation.

Christiane, your thoughts as we are just beginning, beginning to go in depth and appreciate Nelson Mandela.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we have waited for this moment for a long time. There's been this watch over his health for months and months and months now, and many South Africans, as Robyn said, were expecting this sad day.

Nonetheless, you could see how President Zuma was choked up. Several times, he stopped when he was describing how the founding president of South Africa, the founding democratic society Africa passed on, departed peacefully. You can see the joy on the people's faces, also, outside his house. Just those pictures show that they are reflecting what he reflected on them throughout his entire time with the people of South Africa.

He was this incredibly happy presence. It's unusual for a politician to have that relationship with people. For me, I guess, you can only be in awe, like everybody has said up until now, because it is not an exaggeration and it's not a cliche. These towering figures come along once in a lifetime, not even a lifetime, once in many lifetimes.

He is the giant of the 20th and the 21st century. As President Obama said and others, we won't see those likes again. The world has changed. He was able to come out of the prison after 27 years, not just prison, but as a part of the majority of the population of South Africa that was being oppressed for decades by the minority. He was able to transform from being a lawyer to a political activist, to being a rebel and a warrior and a prisoner to a really consummate politician, who was able to see the big picture and came out and understood the story of the other, learned Afrikaans, spoke the language of the white man, held out his hand to the white man, took the white man as a partner, and in peace created a society for all South Africans.

All we have to look back is the phenomenal pictures, and they are heart-stopping pictures, if you look back at those pictures from '94, that election. They're truly awe-inspiring in the best sense of the word, Millions and millions and millions of blacks and whites came out for their first real democratic election.

It was peaceful, and it was just the best civic action of democracy that we have ever seen. It was an amazing, amazing moment and South Africa has basked in that.

BLITZER: I'm going to bring Fareed back in a moment. But Donna Brazile is here. And very quickly, Donna, as we see what is going on right now, the reaction coming in from all over the world, give me a thought. What did -- you met Nelson Mandela personally. We have a picture of you with Nelson Mandela. What did he mean to you?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He was inspirational, he was a man of courage. And he once said that courage was not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it.

He really led by example. I think that's one of the legacies we will always remember about Madiba.

BLITZER: Madiba being his clan name, as they say, his traditional name. That's what so many of his people in South Africa called him. There's a picture, Donna, of you right there with Nelson Mandela. I'm sure you're very proud of that picture, as you should be.


BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, is it overly naive to hope and pray that maybe the death of Nelson Mandela will inspire some of those world leaders out there right now to do the right thing, to recognize that bloodshed and warfare will not achieve much, that peaceful relations perhaps can better be achieved through dialogue and discussion and hard work, as opposed to war?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It is naive, Wolf, and you probably know that as well.

You know, they say that difficult times throw up great leaders. It's true that if you think about World War II and the Depression, it produced these great larger-than-life figures. Mandela came out of those times, the hardship of apartheid, the brutality of it.

But of course the thing we forget is that it doesn't always mean they will be great reconciliators, that they will be able to transform the countries. There are people like Gorbachev who were able to take the Soviet Union and do away with the bad, but couldn't really build the good. Mandela had a kind of political genius, outside of just the moral courage.

I was reflecting. Wolf, you were showing the videos of him, for example, embracing Fidel Castro. It reminded me of that moment. I remember when he came out of prison, when he was elected in '94, everyone wondered, what is this guy going to do? Because the countries that had supported the African National Congress, that had supported, you know, the anti-apartheid movement were Cuba, were Gadhafi, were Arafat, these revolutionaries.

Was he going to take South Africa to become a kind of rogue nation? What was interesting was he steered South Africa in the direction of being part of the world community, pro-Western, very much part of the democratic world, but at the same time he stayed personally loyal to the people who had supported the struggle for 27 years while he was in prison and for decades beyond that. And so he had that way, that genius of figuring out how to steer the country in the right direction without completely forsaking your friends, without losing some of the things that gave you the fire. So that kind of genius I don't think we have right now anywhere.

BLITZER: It's an excellent point when you think about the impact he had, Fareed, and the way he led by example. And you know what? I am being naive if I think that in his death he might inspire world leaders to behave as he did, and understand that recriminations and violence and civil strife not going to achieve much when all is said and done. In the end, there's a peaceful way of moving forward.

Fareed, you expect that almost all of the world leaders will be moving forward, and so many of them will go to South Africa to pay their personal respects?

ZAKARIA: I think you're exactly right, Wolf. I think this will be on the order of the funeral of Winston Churchill, the funeral of John Kennedy, where you will see, I would guess, upward of 50 heads of state.

I would imagine President Obama will make every effort to go, and, you know, the way this works is once people realize who is going, it has a snowball effect. I think this will be very big.

BLITZER: Stand by.

Joe Johns is joining us right now, our correspondent.

Joe, you covered Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Give us your thoughts.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I covered him in South Africa as well as here in the United States when he traveled here.

He was just a fascinating man, to be in his presence. The sense that this was a man who had been through so much, had no spite, and had such a big heart that he was able to forgive even his jailers, I think, was probably the most remarkable thing about him. I traveled there, as you did, I believe, Wolf, in 1998, when President Clinton went to South Africa, and then again here in Washington, D.C.

The one that's most memorable, of course, was the state dinner that President Clinton had for President Mandela. And even at that time, the closest I ever got to him was to take a few pictures of friends in the presence of Mr. Mandela.

He's had an enormous influence in Washington, D.C., starting, of course, with the protests against apartheid that caused members of Congress and ministers and so many others to be arrested over the years, and then to watch that transformation in South Africa. And to see him lead that country through what the people referred to as the change, from the majority white -- from the white rule to the majority black rule is just a fascinating process, even though at some time it was very, very difficult for South Africa. BLITZER: It certainly was very painful, very difficult. But he was an amazing man. Joe, stand by.

We have with us here in Washington Ebrahim Rasool. He's South Africa's ambassador to the United States.

Well, let me express all condolences, all our condolences to all of the people of South Africa on this loss of your great leader.

Mr. Ambassador, tell us what this moment means to you.

EBRAHIM RASOOL, SOUTH AFRICA AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Wolf, I think that there's a personal moment and there's a national moment.

At the personal level, I think we are all deeply shocked. I think we have been expecting it, but that doesn't diminish at all the personal shock we feel and the national shock that I'm sure we will be able to absorb over the next few days.

I think that Nelson Mandela represents probably the finest that our country, our continent, and maybe even in the world is capable of producing. I think it challenges us to reach for the better selves that are within us and that we really need to make an effort to live up to that standard.

And so at the moment of great grief is also a moment of great challenge to us to rise to the occasion and to emulate him in whatever way we can.

BLITZER: As we know, he was 95 years old, and very gravely ill now for at least a year, in and out of the hospital, lung infections, all sorts of serious problems. You have prepared, your country, your government for what is going to happen over the next 10 days. Share with our viewers here in the United States and around the world what we can expect in South Africa.

RASOOL: Wolf, I think in South Africa already we have had the announcement of 10 days of mourning. I'm not sure that it's enough, but I think that that certainly is going to allow us to make the most of putting on a dignified funeral for Nelson Mandela, to give the nation in all its diversity an opportunity to express grief, to give leaders the ability to absorb the enormity of the loss and to see how do we recover a little bit of Nelson Mandela in each one of us as we move forward.

And I certainly think that it is a way to prepare the world to be able to converge on South Africa, because it's not as if we want to sanctify Nelson Mandela. It's simply that we want to share a little bit of that personal lesson of what leadership is in a troubled world today that we'd like to share with the world. And if heads of state are able to come, and we want to make it comfortable for them to come, we believe that that is the way in which not only to pay tribute, but to draw lessons.

BLITZER: And so you would like President Obama, other world leaders if they want to come to come to South Africa and pay their personal respects?

RASOOL: From having accompanied President Obama to the prison on Robben Island earlier this year, I know that entire Obama family, the entire government of the United States, as well as the people of the United States would want to be represented.

After all, it's the citizens of the United States that have played such a significant role in the overthrow of particular, in the release of Nelson Mandela. On the birthday of Nelson Mandela, 22 states across the United States mobilized in order to say happy birthday to him.

We have had the unveiling of the Nelson Mandela statue on Massachusetts Avenue outside our embassy. And the response was overwhelming. I think the people of the United States would expect a senior level leadership at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: I'm sure the president will go. I have no doubt about that. I'm sure other world leaders will go.

Your country, I assume, is ready for that kind of moment when so many world leaders, maybe more world leaders than we have seen in recent years, attend the funeral of a great person.

RASOOL: I think that that's the amount of love and administration and respect that there is for Nelson Mandela.

I think our country will, despite its grief, be able to receive the world with great dignity and I am sure that no amount of preparation will be able to manage the sheer numbers of people. We have the experience of World Cup 2010 behind us. I think we have shown that we can put on the security needed, we can put on the logistics needed for it.

But I also think that we have a responsibility to also allow the people of the United States a way to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela. And so the embassy of South Africa, the whole team South Africa in the United States will be focusing over the next few days on how we can memorialize him, how we can give people of the United States an avenue in order to pay tribute.

It's also ironic that this happens at the moment when the film "Long Walk to Freedom" begins to take root across the United States and gives people an insight into the life of Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, I want to stay with us, if you can, because I want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's over at the White House getting some more information.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We can tell the people who are watching us right now, Wolf, that we do expect President Obama to travel to South Africa for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, hearing that from a source familiar with that kind of planning in just the last several minutes. Don't really have anything more on that, but as you heard the president saying in his brief remarks in the White House Briefing Room just a few moments ago, Wolf, obviously Nelson Mandela is one of his heroes, and this is somebody who touched President Obama's life when he was a young man in Occidental College many years ago.

The very first political act as a young man was to go to an anti- apartheid rally. That stayed with President Obama, with Barack Obama all through his life. And when he got into politics, Nelson Mandela was sort of always with President Obama, and as you heard in the White House Briefing Room, he said Nelson Mandela is no longer with us, he is with the ages.

President Obama tried to visit Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as you know, over the summer when the president was traveling across Africa. He was not able to do that because Nelson Mandela was sick, but he was able to visit with the civil rights and anti-apartheid icon back in 2005 when Barack Obama was a member of the United States Senate, and that was a meeting that has always stayed with President Obama.

As a matter of fact, Wolf, earlier this month the president held a screening of a movie on Nelson Mandela's life here at the White House, where he also met with Mandela's two daughters.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will want to go and will go to South Africa for the state funeral.

Here's the president of the United States in the last hour speaking from the heart.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.


BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking out.

We have got some other guests, but, Mr. Ambassador, you're here.

You just heard Jim Acosta that sources are now saying the president will go. The state funeral is on day 10 of this period of mourning, the final day, right? That's when you expect most world leaders, 10 days from now to come to South Africa?

RASOOL: I think , if the calculation is right, and the 10th day is over the weekend, I think that they may make some adjustments to that program.

And certainly I think that we would really be laying out all the arrangements in order to receive those heads of state at the memorial. Whether the funeral is private is another matter, but I certainly would think we would want that kind of tribute to be paid.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will do that.

All right, Mr. Ambassador, if you can stay with us, please stay with us.

Our viewers here in the United States and around the world are grateful to you sharing this time on this special day.

Senator Tim Scott of scar is on the phone, the only African- American senator in the United States Senate.

Senator, what did Nelson Mandela mean to you?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Wolf, I'll tell you, he was just an iconic figure and a transformational leader.

I think of some of the writings I read about what he said when he was in prison. One of the thoughts that has always stuck with me is that he learned humility. In a time when most of us become bitter, he was becoming better. And it's remarkable, as I think through 27 years, a third of his adult life, behind bars, having lost his freedom. He never lost his freedom to think.

Those are things that stuck with me. I can't get his quote exactly right, but one of the things he says, when you have an objective in life, then you want to concentrate on that objective and not on your enemy.

And a part of why I think he was so transformational was that upon his release, he sought reconciliation and not revenge. And these are lessons that I think are just timeless and that I need to remember for myself. And one of the other things he seemed to be very famous for is, instead of trying to change the world, perhaps we should start by changing ourselves.

And that may be the fastest way to change the world.

BLITZER: So, as a young man growing up, I assume you watched him, you learned from him, Senator, and he inspired you?

SCOTT: Absolutely.

When I think back to the lines during that presidential race back in '95, '94, hen I think back to the time when he was running for president, those lines that were just hours and hours, thousands and thousands of people, and it spoke to me that his humility had struck a chord throughout the nation, his nation, and that he had become perhaps the most powerful person in his time, at that time.

And I was excited for the country. I was excited for where he was going to take them. I was excited about the fact that a man having spent 27 years behind bars could experience perhaps the absolute opposite of what he had experienced in jail, which was freedom and the ability to set other free, which I think is the mark that he will have left on this earth. BLITZER: Well said. Senator Tim Scott, the only Republican African-American senator, Senator, thank you very much.

These are live pictures from Johannesburg, outside of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela's home, where the people of South Africa, black and white, they are remembering this great leader.

And we're remembering Nelson Mandela. Our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM will continue right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're bringing you the breaking news, our special breaking news coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM of the death of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and certainly a great inspiration for the entire world, as a champion of freedom, civil rights and democracy.

The current president of South Africa announced the death of the 95-year-old Mandela, calling him the country's greatest son.


ZUMA: Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family.

To them, we owe a debt of gratitude. They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free.


BLITZER: Jacob Zuma speaking only a little while ago, the president of South Africa.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington.

These are live pictures we're showing you from outside the home of Nelson Mandela, this outside Johannesburg in South Africa. The folks are gathering there, and they're paying their respects in the South African traditional way.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in a very difficult journey that led to the end of South Africa's system of racial segregation and to Nelson Mandela's historic election as president of South Africa. Stand by for more reaction around the world on the death of an iconic leader.

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, is joining us on the phone right now.

Mr. Prime Minister, what did Nelson Mandela mean to you?

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: When I first became prime minister in 1997, he was an extraordinary father figure, a mentor to me as a new prime minister.

And then later, when we put Africa right at the center of the world stage in the G8 in 2005 and did a whole series of things around aid and debt cancellation, he was a complete inspiration. He was the person that -- that I think more than any other person in the late 20th century represented the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, the quality of forgiveness, the ability to unify people of different races and colors, and backgrounds, and was this extraordinary symbol, therefore, of unity and common humanity.

And I think that's what -- what he really did was, he managed to create a situation in which people overcame past differences and conflicts, problems that they have had for many, many decades, even generations in some cases. And what he represented was that incredible capacity just to overcome the past in the name of creating a better future.

BLITZER: Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, thank you for sharing some thoughts on this special day.

Once again, those are live pictures from Johannesburg, where people have gathered outside the home of Nelson Mandela to pay their respects.

Donna Brazile is here. John King is here.

And the South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, is here as well.

Mr. Ambassador, hold on for a minute.

John, you were there in 1994, almost 20 years ago when Nelson Mandela was elected and inaugurated as president of South Africa. Tell us what it was like.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It remains the most powerful moment I have ever seen, and I'm sure I will ever see. Beforehand, the Vice President Al Gore at the time, led the U.S. delegation. And you mentioned who will go to the funeral? This was the who's who of world leaders. Fidel Castro was walking out of the hall. Gadhafi was walking out of the hall. Many of the African leaders, some of them quite controversial to the leadership of the United States, were walking out in the hall at this moment.

And then-President-elect Mandela, just moments he was having brief meetings with all the visiting VIPs. After he met with the vice president, there were a few reporters, and he shuffled over and very quietly and shook our hands, very quickly, two hands, and asked how we were doing. I was so struck that on this day when he was about to become such an iconic and historic figure, that's who he was, this quite dignity and grace.

I want to show this. The VIPs were given this. And some of us hung around the ceremony instead of going back to the hotel. And if you look at this --

BLITZER: You were working for "The Associated Press".

KING: I was working for "The Associated Press" at the time. And this is the new stamp they issued that day, commemorating the new president, Nelson Mandela. But remember, there was also a new national anthem, and a new flag. This was a new South Africa.

And there's a commemorative stamp for the national anthem and ones for the new flag. These are the parliament buildings, I believe they're called the Union Buildings, Mr. Ambassador, where the ceremony was held. And in this courtyard is where the ceremony was held.

And, again, you had a who's who of world leaders. But, Wolf, I remember, we were watching from a balcony in the union building, and these generals in the military white dress uniforms, white men, handing over power to Nelson Mandela. At that moment, everybody was crying, reporters, people in the stands were crying. It was just amazing watching these white men in white dress uniforms essentially hand the power of South Africa to this historic African leader.

And the thing that struck me most after the ceremony, we hung around and some of the VIPs left these behind. So I was smart enough to pick up a couple.

BLITZER: Very smart.

KING: But I remember walking back to the hotel, and the ambassador knows the ground better than me, so if I get it wrong, please help me. But I went down a hill from the Union Buildings, and there were just some city parks. And there were people, poor people sitting in parks, all black people, just the tears of joy.

You've seen so many tears -- if you cover wars, if you cover tragedies, you see so many tears of horror and sadness. The tears of joy and people singing, the people who had nothing were celebrating the most that day, and the park, it was a major way back to the hotel in Pretoria. Again, it is the most powerful thing I have ever seen.

BLITZER: You remember that day, I assume, Mr. Ambassador?

EBRAHIM RASOOL, SOUTH AFRICAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: That was one of the most poignant days, and for us, the moment that suddenly we were now responsible for running this country. With those airplanes --

KING: The fly-over.

RASOOL: -- came over, our first instinct was to duck for cover, but then we realized, and someone shouted, they are ours. And that was the moment when power settled into the hands of Nelson Mandela, but not in a way that was brash, not in the way that was harsh, but he dealt with that power with the greatest of gentleness, that made the poorest people who had nothing, as you explained, John, with absolutely nothing, believe that even if they only had their dignity now, they had everything.

KING: That's the word. That's the word that strikes you, if you cover politics for a long time, you traveled the world, so many political leaders -- this is not a criticism -- but they're loud. They make their mark by being loud, by leading new parties, by leading new movements.

It's just the quiet dignity. When you were in the room, you felt like you didn't belong in the same room with this man.

BLITZER: It's one of those moments as a journalist, you'll never forget. As a citizen of South Africa, you'll never forget. Donna, you remember those days very vividly. It was the Bill Clinton administration in 1994.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And as an activist, who went over to help train many of the political workers, President Mandela wanted us to be there to help them with their transition, to encourage people who had never before ever voted to get comfortable with the process. It really was a very special moment.

BLITZER: I remember when I interviewed him in Cape Town, Mr. Ambassador, you'll remember this, this was in March of 1998, Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, was there the day before, Nelson Mandela took him as president of South Africa on a tour of Robben Island where he was in the cell for, what, 17 years, or whatever, on Robben Island.

The next day I interviewed him and there were reports that maybe some of the white generals in the South African military were plotting some sort of coup. I don't know if you remember those days, and I asked Nelson Mandela about that. You know, he told me that's ridiculous. Don't worry, there maybe one bad apple here, but this is a new South Africa and that's not going to -- he was totally confident in the face and people of South Africa.

RASOOL: Nelson Mandela had this great belief in his ability to persuade. If you had just done the greatest negotiations ever, to hand over power peacefully, without undue compromise, but with sufficient compromise, I think that he understood that he was giving those generals more than a place in the sand. He was giving them the freedom to be human. And he was enjoying his freedom to be human.

And Nelson Mandela had this art of being ability to seduce loyalty, to be able to charm his way. No threats, just to show himself as a human being with all these vulnerabilities and frailties, and to inspire that confidence.

And the most important thing that each one of them, as well as those who ran the apartheid government, said, we can work with this man. And when they had that sense, I think everything became possible for Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: Let me play a clip. And this is -- people ask me all the time as a journalist, and I've been a journalist for the long time, you know, what was the most important interview, guest I ever had an interview with, and I always refer to Nelson Mandela. Here he was in Cape Town, the presidential residence in Cape Town, the first black president of South Africa. I had been there in the '80s during apartheid as a journalist. What a difference it was.

Let me play a clip from that sit-down with Nelson Mandela.


BLITZER: When you look at South Africa's role, South Africa's position on the world stage today, what role do you envision for this new South Africa, especially for trying -- presumably you would like to bring the United States closer together with some of these countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Cuba? Do you want to play a role in facilitating a closer U.S. relationship with these countries?

NELSON MANDELA, THEN-SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Well, the United States of America plays an important role in world affairs. And all that I would like to happen is that American foreign policy should be consistent with the provisions of the United Nations charter, which calls upon all member countries to try and settle disputes by peaceful means. As a world leader, we would like United States to set an example in trying to carry out the fundamental principles which are laid down in the freedom -- in the United Nations charter.


BLITZER: It was interesting, Mr. Ambassador. He really admired Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, who was there at Cape Town, at the same time. But he was not reluctant to criticize the U.S. if he saw the U.S. going in the wrong direction.

RASOOL: I think that's the model authority that Nelson Mandela has. He wants nothing from the world and he owes the world nothing. Whatever sacrifice he could have made had been made. Nothing more could be done to harm him.

And that's why I think the power of truth was the one that he spoke, but he spoke in such a gentle way. There wasn't the kind of vitriolic, ideological razzmatazz that he was unfolding on the United States. It was simply a reminder that a superpower has certain responsibilities in the world and needs to be the first to set an example of peaceful dispute, but he could also do that, confident, because he had done that in South Africa. He was not prescribing a way of resolving problems, that was really the power.

BLITZER: And I know you're planning a memorial here in Washington. We're going to talk about that, Mr. Ambassador, in a moment.

Our special coverage in the life and times of Nelson Mandela will continue in a moment.

These are live pictures coming in from Johannesburg, where people are remembering this great world leader.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. BLITZER: Nelson Mandela has passed away at the age of 95. Just a few hours ago, the official announcement was made in South Africa by the president, Jacob Zuma. A very, very sad day.

I want to show our viewers, people are celebrating, though, the life and times of Nelson Mandela. These are pictures coming in, live pictures, from Johannesburg, outside the home of Nelson Mandela. It's approaching 2:00 a.m. in South Africa right now. But the people are out on the streets. And I suspect they will be throughout these next 10 days of official mourning in South Africa.

We're watching what's going on.

And joining us on the phone right now is Mosima Gabriel Tokyo Sexwale, who served time, who spent years in Robben Island in the prison with Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Sexwale, thank you so much for joining us.

Give us some thoughts right now on Nelson Mandela, we're showing our viewers what it was like during the apartheid regime, what it was like. Tell us what it was like, especially on Robben Island in prison.

MOSIMA GABRIEL TOKYO SEXWALE, IMPRISONED WITH NELSON MANDELA (via telephone): Well, let me first say that our people in South Africa and the world have lost a formidable leader, I must say, a leader of great fortitude. Nelson Mandela demonstrated that leadership is not about power, but on the contrary, it's about honor, it's about love for the people. And that's what we learned from Nelson Mandela during the dark days with him on Robben Island.

Today he is seen as an icon of the world, whose teachings, as well as principles need to be embraced by all. But Nelson Mandela was embraced by even white wardens, his own jailers, on Robben Island, because he demonstrated that through the power of dialogue, through the elements and tool of reconciliation, people on different sides, former enemies, can come together.

That's how we in South Africa were able to resolve our intractable problems created by the racist system of apartheid. We concluded that in order for us to create a new society, a democratic society for a united and nonracial and non-sectarian (ph) South Africa, we've got to embrace all people. And that was seen right throughout the year we spent with Nelson Mandela --

BLITZER: I have a picture, Mr. Sexwale, of the cell, Nelson Mandela's cell. There you see, it's Robben Island, the prison. It's small cells. I think we're going to be able to show our viewers, a cell where Mr. Nelson Mandela spent so many years. There it is right there, awful conditions. He took President Clinton there in March of 1998 on a tour.

I remember that well. I was the White House correspondent for CNN at the time, and it was -- it was a moment that I'll never forget. But I'm going to show our viewers, the picture of the two of you, Mr. Sexwale, there you are, you and Nelson Mandela. You worked together.

How many years were you in Robben Island prison together with him?

SEXWALE: Well, Nelson Mandela spent a total of 27 years, that's well known through the world. I got a discount. I was in prison for 15 years, spending 13 of those on Robben Island. But it's not about the time that we spent there, but the time we spent there discussing, strategizing, looking at how the future ahead of us is going to be revolved.

You're speaking about a small cell of Nelson Mandela. My cell is only about two, three meters away from your cell. The cell is small, but it contained a formidable, a very large, larger than life figure, but someone who was very humble, someone who loved life, who loved his people. Those principles were well tuned up throughout the years when were on Robben Island.

Today, we've seen Nelson Mandela as the emblematic leader that he has become. But people should know that he enhanced those values, the principles of reconciliation, of dialogue, and on Robben Island, side by side with other leaders, like (INAUDIBLE) and so on. Of course, Nelson Mandela is gone, but let me tell you, Mandela-ism must live forever.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does.

Mr. Sexwale, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this day.

And speaking of Robben Island, I spoke with Nelson Mandela in March of '98, a day after he toured Robben Island together with then- President Bill Clinton. And here's what he told me.


BLITZER: We saw you take President Clinton to Robben Island to your cell where you spent 18 years as a political prisoner. And today, we're sitting here in your beautiful home. The contrast between that cell and this home here in Cape Town is remarkable, but it must be so amazing for you to see where you are right now, see where South Africa is right now, and to remember those days, which were only a few years ago.

MANDELA: No, that is true the fact that I spent so many years is only a part of my life now, is part of background. I don't think about it, because as I pointed out to the president yesterday, when I think of those days, pleasant and unpleasant memories arise in my mind, and we (INAUDIBLE) is tragic, but at the same time it is an important lesson, because human beings are human beings. That is one of the areas where we started to understand the thinking of the people of South Africa. That by accepting the integrity of people in the enemy camp and sitting down to discuss matters with them, especially when you have quite a strong case. It is the best way to address problems. And we have been able for change the thinking of the leaders, the important leaders of this country, we've been able to change them to our own point of view. There are difficulties, of course. Those we expected. But when you take into account the way South African society was split from top to bottom by tensions, conflict and bloodshed, what has happened in South Africa today is a miracle.

And as I have said, it is futile to be thinking about what happened in the past. We are thinking about what is happening now and what should happen tomorrow.


BLITZER: Part of my interview with Nelson Mandela in Cape Town, at the presidential residence in 1998.

These are live pictures here from Johannesburg, outside the home of Nelson Mandela, where people have gathered. Now, it's approaching 2:00 a.m. in South Africa, to celebrate his life, to celebrate what's going on, what has happened over this past few years.

This is another live picture, very different part of the world, New York City, Harlem. The Apollo theater in memory of Nelson Mandela on the marquee where people are getting ready to remember this great leader. There will be a memorial service here in Washington. We're about to get some details from South Africa's ambassador to the United States.

Much more of our special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: People all over the world are remembering Nelson Mandela.

Don Lemon is in Harlem in New York City right now, at the Apollo Theater -- a very special place, Don. Tell us why.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. He visited here in 1990 after he got out of prison. You can see the marquee. It says, "In memory of Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013. He changed our world."

And I'm standing here next to this gentleman -- his name is Billy Mitchell -- for a reason. He is the in-house cultural director and tour guide for the Apollo.

You were here when Nelson Mandela visited back in 1990. What was that like?

BILLY MITCHELL, APOLLO HISTORIAN: I was so blessed to be a part of the hundreds of thousands of people that were here to welcome Nelson Mandela to Harlem. It was a very emotional time for me, a very spiritual -- it felt like a spiritual time.

LEMON: He felt a connection here because I live in the neighborhood. There are many Africans, there's a place here they call "Little Africa" not far from here.

MITCHELL: That is true. On 116th Street between Madison and St. Nichols Avenue, that's Little Africa. They have African shops, African restaurants, African culture. It's Little Africa.

LEMON: Yes, and he felt that connection when he was surprised to see so many South Africans living here, and the reception he got.

MITCHELL: That's true. He saw so many black people in Harlem. You know, Harlem is the cultural center of black culture and he knew where he was at. He knew exactly where a lot of the people that he wanted to see were.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much.

MITCHELL: My pleasure, Don.

LEMON: We appreciate it.

And, Wolf, here right now, they have just marquee up there, contemplating whether they'll do a service or celebration that is still in the works. No information on that. But we're going to be here live for you.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Don, thanks very much.

Joe Johns is monitoring reaction on social media.

It's pouring in from around the world, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is absolutely true, Wolf. And I have to tell you, it's coming in not just from politicians by any stretch of the imagination.

We have one statement here from Muhammad Ali, the great fighter, the boxer, some called "The Greatest of All Time". He said, "What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart and soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale."

And we also have a statement here from Bono, the musician, activist, best known with U2. He says, "If he was born to teach the age a lesson in humility, in humor and above all else in patience. In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence but because he learned that love would do a better job."

So, those are just two of the many statements coming in from all over the world as people celebrated the life and times of Nelson Mandela, Wolf.

BLITZER: And more and more will be pouring in over the next 10 days of official mourning. The South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, is here.

And I understand here in Washington, you're planning for some sort of memorial service as well?

RASOOL: In the next few minutes, we'll convene a meeting with the former Free South Africa, Trans Africa, the coalition of black trade unions, the embassy, the whole (INAUDIBLE) South Africa in the United States, the faith communities, in order to give shape to what it is.

But in our minds, it would be in the middle of next week in Washington. We think the place of stature for it would be the Washington Cathedral. That is what we're aiming at. Preferably Wednesday but those are the details we will tie up.

And outside our embassy, at the newly installed statue of Nelson Mandela that symbolizes that historic he took out of prison with his fist raise, we will be unfinished as the embassy is. There's still got some construction. We believe that will be an important place where Nelson Mandela could be remembered by those who may want to put some flowers or sign a condolence book.

BLITZER: So you'll have that on Massachusetts Avenue.

RASOOL: That's on Massachusetts Avenue.

BLITZER: And that's -- we're showing our viewers a live picture of the statue. I drive down that Massachusetts Avenue like John King does, Donna Brazile does, every day almost. And I see that statue and I see the construction going on there. And I think of the history of South Africa. And it's a wonderful tribute that Donna, a quick final thought.

BRAZILE: No question about it. I think Mr. Mandela would want to us gather at that statue to remember his long journey and his walk toward freedom.

KING: If you look around this town, you look around so many political capitals around the world, there are divisions, some of them violent, some of them political -- what a lesson this man was of the power of dignity and grace.

BLITZER: And, Mr. Ambassador, we thank you so much for joining us. We'll be with you next Wednesday. We'll be watching what's happening in South Africa over the next 10 days of mourning.

Nelson Mandela has passed away.

We're going to have much more coverage. Thank you very much for watching our special SITUATION ROOM coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Much more coming up right now on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" with Jake Tapper filling in.