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Remembering Nelson Mandela

Aired December 6, 2013 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Remembering Nelson Mandela. The world mourning the loss of a legend morning. South Africa's former president hailed for his courage, his conviction, his decency, and his enduring message of equality.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this special edition of EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is Friday, the 6th day of December. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

BERMAN: And this is, as I said, a special edition of EARLY START beginning a little early this morning because the world is grieving and, in some ways, celebrating a giant among men.

Nelson Mandela, whose unbreakable will, his unsurpassed courage, brought an end to an era of white domination in South Africa. He is dead this morning at the age of 95. Mandela was such a global icon, larger-than-life legend who went from a prison cell to the presidency, and he did it with such unmatched grace.

I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon. She is live in Johannesburg in South Africa this morning.

Arwa, what's it like to be there today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's incredibly emotional. And, you know, you hear a lot of that terminology you're referring to just there. Nelson Mandela being a hero, a legend, an icon. But for so many of the people we're speaking to here, they will say that that hardly truly encompasses what it was that he meant for this nation and what it was that he allowed this nation to become.

Behind me is the house where he did pass away. The crowd has been gathered here ever since that news came out last night. People showing up in their pajamas. The crowd slowly growing throughout the morning, people chanting, singing songs from the days of the revolution, singing songs about struggle.

He passed away, as you will well remember, after battling a lung infection for quite some time, taking a turn for the worse over the summer before being moved here to this home where he was under intensive care. It would seem as if his body began rejecting the antibiotics and then Nelson Mandela did in fact pass away. The body now moved to a military hospital in Pretoria where over the next few days it will be embalmed from there. It is going to be moved to the Johannesburg Soccer Stadium -- that is where the World Cup was played -- for a public memorial. From there on to Pretoria where it will lie in state for a few days before finally moving to Nelson Mandela's ancestral hometown of Qunu for a state funeral.

A lot of people here are saying, though, that when they heard the news they actually felt a certain level of joy and happiness because he was so ill in those final years and because they felt as if he could now finally meet up with his ancestors, finally rest in peace.

Behind me also not just the singing and the chanting, a number of children have come together out of painted rocks. They created the lettering, "We love you, Mandela." People have been laying flowers, lighting candles as well.

And when we speak about the profound impact that the choices that Nelson Mandela made on this nation, for this nation, they really cannot be overemphasized. The fact that he chose upon his release from prison to move towards reconciliation rather than revenge.

We were speaking to a young black, 23-year-old university student. He said that had Mandela not made those choices he would not right now be getting the education that he was getting. Listening to the radio this morning, so many people calling and commenting on how if Mandela had not been the man that he was, this country could have very easily ended up like Syria or Iraq.

And yet another policeman we were speaking to this morning, John, saying that with Nelson Mandela's passing he felt as if he had lost a part of his soul, a part of his body, and that he truly hopes that moving forward the country and its leaders will remember what it was that this incredible man stood for -- John.

BERMAN: It is so remarkable. Arwa Damon, in Johannesburg, thank you so much.

Arwa brings up such a good point. Words like legend don't begin to cut when it when you deal with Nelson Mandela. When you're in South Africa you realized he's more than a leader, more than a legend. He's in the fabric of that nation in every one's soul in some ways. They all carry a piece of him around. His presence, it's overwhelming when you sit with him.

PEREIRA: And what a very interesting point given what we know is going on in the Mideast now, is how the connection she made to how the country could have ended up very differently if it hadn't been for him and for his sacrifices and for his efforts.

BERMAN: It was no way -- in no way inevitable.

PEREIRA: Inevitable.

BERMAN: That there would not be chaos there.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

Well, let's talk about that influence around the world. From the moment the news broke of Mandela's death, the tribute started pouring in. He was revered. It's almost as so the world has lost a father.

Let's get the international reaction from Erin McLaughlin. She's reporting live from London this morning. We're talking about the fact that he was seen as the father of South Africa but the influence and the fact that he was an icon around the world shows you what a larger- than-life man he was.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Michaela. People here this morning stopping to pay tribute outside the South Africa House in London. They're leaving candles and flowers and cards, thanking Nelson Mandela for everything he was -- has done. Saying how much they would miss him. A sentiment that's really being echoed around the world.


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

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): News of his death traveled swiftly around the world. In the UK, Prince William and Kate heard the news while attending the UK premiere of the film "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

PRINCE WILLIAM, DUKE OF CAMBRIDGE: Extremely sad and tragic news. We're just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was.

MCLAUGHLIN: And just hours before signing autographs on the red carpet, British actor Idris Elba who portrayed the South African icon in the film shared this story from one of Mandela's daughters.

IDRIS ELBA, ACTOR: In his own words, and Zindzi Mandela told me this today. He said, I'm not sick. I'm just old.

MCLAUGHLIN: But after hearing of Mandela's passing the actor said in a statement to CNN, "What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Across the globe world leaders reflected on the legacy Nelson Mandela leaves behind. At the United Nations, silence. And remembrance of his enormous impact.

BAN KI MOON, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY GENERAL: No one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations. Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us, if we believe.

MCLAUGHLIN: Today he is remembered in every corner of the globe. The Australian prime minister.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Nelson Mandela was one of the great figures of Africa. Arguably one of the great figures of the last century. A truly great man.

MCLAUGHLIN: And in Canada, where in 2001 Mandela became the first honorary citizen of Ottawa, the prime minister said the world has lost one of its great moral leaders.

STEPHEN HARPER, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Despite his long years of captivity, Mr. Mandela left prison with his mind closed to any settling of scores and his heart open to those he had fought against.

MCLAUGHLIN: Mandela in his fight for equality influenced not just world leaders, but also the people of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been an inspiration for generations growing up. He stood for the civil rights, not just people in South Africa but around the world, and sadly that struggle still goes on.


MCLAUGHLIN: People here continuing to leave notes. One of them read, "Thank you for creating a pathway to freedom for all of us," a message that's being heard here and in other countries as well -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: Very moving indeed. Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: And truly the tributes are simply pouring in from all over the world this morning.

President Obama had some very, very poignant words to honor the late president of South Africa. He actually invoked words that were used at President Lincoln's funeral.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, Madiba 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 for those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that did it all with grace, and good humor, and the ability to acknowledge his own imperfections only makes the man that much more remarkable.


BERMAN: Well said. The president also said that Mandela inspired him. That protests against Apartheid in South Africa was Mr. President's first foray in the political activism.

PEREIRA: Other former presidents also weighing in. George H.W. Bush who famously welcomed Mandela to the White House after his release from prison, saying, quote, "Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers, following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment, setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all."

BERMAN: President George W. Bush also sending his condolences to the Mandela family saying, "President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example."

PEREIRA: And of course President Clinton was in the White House when Mandela was elected president of South Africa. The two developed quite a close relationship. Clinton saying of his passing, quote, "All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived. He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life's real victories must be shared."

BERMAN: And former president Jimmy Carter also paying tribute to Nelson Mandela saying, quote, "His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide."

You know, the president of the United States is often referred to as the leader of the free world but yet you can see from the statements of each of these men, they were in awe of Nelson Mandela.

PEREIRA: Of -- yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: No question about it.

PEREIRA: And a simple beginning to life. You know, when you look at the place where he's going to be buried and CNN will be taking you through the days of mourning, 10 days of morning in South Africa. He had the desire to be buried in his -- in his hometown.

BERMAN: He is going home.

PEREIRA: Yes, he is going home.

BERMAN: All right. And of course we're going to bring you continuing coverage of the life and death of Nelson Mandela all morning. But -- but now we're going to get to another big story.

PEREIRA: Yes. The weather. When we come back, we're going to tell you about this deadly winter storm that is wreaking havoc across our country. Hundreds of flights have already been canceled. Roads are choked with ice.

BERMAN: We're going to get the worst of the damage and tell you what is still coming on the way.


BERMAN: Welcome back to "EARLY START", everyone. And our special coverage of the passing of Nelson Mandela. We will have much more on the late South African president's life, his death in a moment. But first, some other headlines that are developing this morning. PEREIRA: We're watching this deep freeze that is blanketing virtually all of the U.S. causing all sorts of travel nightmares on the roads and in the air. Already more than 500 flights have been pre-canceled across the country because of this bitter weather.

BERMAN: And getting around by car, a major risk as well. Look at this. This was a seven vehicle wreck along Interstate 540 in northern Arkansas. Four people were sent to the hospital there. Their injuries luckily are not life-threatening.

PEREIRA: Emergency officials in Oklahoma saying most roads in the entire state are slick and are hazardous. A state of emergency has actually been declared in all 77 counties. The state is now activated an emergency operation center to help people that are affected by this bad weather. So far we're told at least three dozen people have been injured.

BERMAN: And what about Denver? Record lows there. Minus 15 yesterday.


BERMAN: Drivers gripping their steering wheels tight. That's a good idea. Look at that. The city is dealing with packed snow --

PEREIRA: Take it easy.

BERMAN: -- and ice on the roadways and highways. There is more snow in the forecast for tomorrow night.

Big question now is what can we expect today?

PEREIRA: We'll move that question to our weather maven Chad Myers who is taking an early look for us.

Chad, tell us what we can expect.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. I know it is warm where you are but it is not in the Midwest. The arctic air is in place, it is low, it's heavy, it's dense, it's right on the ground and warm air is riding on top. And that warm air is creating an ice storm.

There are lots of people this morning waking up without power throughout the Midwest from Dallas through Little Rock and west of Memphis, up to Paducah, already ice on the ground and more to come.

Airports will be very slow today. Even with the fog in the northeast and all that, yes, but even if your plane is not in the northeast, maybe coming through one of these Midwest airports that will be certainly affected later on today.

Now it's all gone for Saturday. The only bad news is there is another storm system that could affect the northeast especially D.C. and Baltimore for Sunday, and into Monday with more ice. We're in a very cold pattern. When it tries to rain on top of cold air that's always a mess.

Back to you, guys.

PEREIRA: All right. A mess indeed. We'll be watching it. Thanks so much, Chad.

Coming up, we're going to take a complete look back at Nelson Mandela's life from his childhood to the presidency and beyond.

Our special coverage of Madiba continues next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to this special edition of "EARLY START". This morning we are looking back at the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela.

PEREIRA: The former South African president will always be remembered as a man of peace. A courageous soul with unmatched grace and dignity but it was Mandela's willingness to use force as a young man that changed the course of history.

We get more now from CNN's Robyn Curnow.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (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 trouble- making 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.

MARTIN MEREDITH, HISTORIAN: What marks Mandela's career as president more -- almost more than anything else is that 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.


PEREIRA: "Things that please my soul."

BERMAN: And to see the twinkle in his eye. To emerge from 27 years in prison with a twinkle in his eye that never faded.

PEREIRA: Yes. We can all learn a great lesson of forgiveness from that tremendous life.

BERMAN: We're going to continue our coverage -- coverage of this great man and his great life in our next half hour.

We are live in South Africa for the latest reaction on what's happening there all day and then the coming days right after the break.