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Remebering Former South African President Nelson Mandela

Aired December 6, 2013 - 04:30   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Remembering an icon, a hero, a legend. Mourning the death of Nelson Mandela.

This morning's special coverage of the former South African president's life whose message of equality changed the world.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to "EARLY START", everyone. I am John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is 32 minutes past the hour. We welcome all of our viewers both here in the United States and around the globe.

Welcome back to an early, early edition of "EARLY START". A whole lot of tears and a few wistful smiles this morning as the world pauses to remember Nelson Mandela.

His unbreakable spirit squashed Apartheid in white dominated South Africa. A few men in history single-handedly changed so many hearts and minds in the face of such duress.

Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon live from Johannesburg, South Africa, this morning. I can imagine it's very moving to see this. It's both a beautiful and sad and celebratory looking at his life.

DAMON: It most certainly is. I mean, this is a nation in morning but this is also a nation that is celebrating the memory of this legendary individual that few can, in fact, find words to describe.

We are in front of his house in Johannesburg. It was in fact here where he did pass away yesterday at around 10 to 9:00 at night. From there he was moved on to a military hospital in Pretoria. There his body will be embalmed over the next few days and then moved to the soccer stadium in Johannesburg where it will be set for a public memorial.

From there on to Pretoria it will lie in state in casket and then finally on to his an ancestral hometown where Nelson Mandela will be laid to rest.

But ever since that news broke last night that he had in fact passed away, people began coming here, sometimes in their pajamas, singing, chanting. A lot of the themes here really remembering the struggle that this nation went through as a whole, but also really remembering what it was that Nelson Mandela meant and the critical choice that he made after he was released from prison. The choice of reconciliation rather than revenge.

A lot of people we're talking to are saying that, yes, of course, it pains them but at the same time they are feeling a certain level of joy and happiness because they say of his illness, that re-occurring lung infection, now he would finally be able to rest in peace.

And the profound impact he's had on this country, so many here are really struggling to put their emotions into words at this state. Like a 23-year-old black university student that we spoke to who said that his parents did not have the life that he had. They were not able to go to school but because of what Nelson Mandela did, because what he allowed and enabled, facilitated this nation to become now this young man was able to go to what he was describing as a white school. Get an equal opportunity in education.

One police officer we were speaking to who was saying that he was jailed in fact during the years of Apartheid for standing up to that government. Now out on the streets, he says protecting the country feeling as if he lost yes, a part of his soul, but he, too, was feeling a profound sense of joy.

But also hoping that coming out of all of this, the country's people and the country's leaders will truly remember what it was that Nelson Mandela represented and the sentiment that we have standing out here amongst all of this, there's families here, there's children here. It's really one -- yes, again, as we say of a nation in mourning, but it's also quite uplifting as this country remembers a most remarkable man.

PEREIRA: Arwa Damon with a live image there. The streets around his home in South Africa, the celebration on the streets. Thank you so much for that look and also for looking forward, too. That is the next question is looking forward for the future of South Africa.

BERMAN: And it's not just the images, the sound.

PEREIRA: The sound. The music.

BERMAN: If you listen to the people there, the celebration of such a life there. And I want to hear much more about that life.

Our next guest was in prison on Robben Island during Nelson Mandela's last years there. He was also the former CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Khehla Shubane joins us now from London.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning, sir. Let me first start off by saying, you know, we are so sorry for the national loss, for your country and also your personal loss of your friend. This morning what are your feelings? What are your thoughts, sir?

KHEHLA SHUBANE, FORMER CEO, THE NELSON MANDELA FOUNDATION: My thoughts and feelings are with the family of Mr. Mandela, his children, his grandchildren, his wife. And I know that South Africans and his friends and admirers around the world feeling the sense of loss today. I identify completely with those feelings.

BERMAN: You were in prison with Nelson Mandela. Talk to us about that experience.

SHUBANE: I got to Robben Island in 1977. I was 21 years of age at the time. A Fester University student. The odd thing is that I didn't recognize Mr. Mandela on day one when I met him. This was in about September or so of 1977. He seemed like one other prisoner we met but there was something odd about this prisoner.

He was -- he was not in a hurry when he met with us. About a half of dozen of us had gone to a reception to the central office to the Pacific and we met with him. He had just come out of the office of the commanding officer there, he greeted all of us, looked us all in the eye, and we had a chat and it was -- it was -- he clearly was an amazing and important person, but, at the time, I didn't know who this man was. I later learned about a week or so that the man we had met was Mr. Mandela.

BERMAN: That is an amazing story. You know, we've heard from American presidents over the last day who really seem to be in awe of Nelson Mandela. They treat him like he truly was different. To you, what made him so special?

SHUBANE: I think what made -- and by the way, I don't think I realized just quite how important Mr. Mandela was in all of the years that I spent with him in prison. The first two years, we didn't see a lot of him. I was in a section that wasn't allowed to interact with people in his section.

It is the last three, four years of my stay there that we met pretty frequently and we were engaged in debates, dispassions (ph), disagreement and so forth and so on, about political matters. And I don't think at the time I recognized and realized just how important Mr. Mandela was to South African politics and to world politics.

The first time I ever realized that was -- that concert, the first concert in London, I just got a shock of my life and realized for the first time just how important Mr. Mandela was and the gravitas that all with which he gets treated, I realized that at the time. But in all the time that I spent with him in prison, he became really an important member of our organization and nothing more.

PEREIRA: Tell me, when he did get out of prison, did it all surprise you that he'd chose reconciliation over revenge?

SHUBANE: No. I wasn't surprised at all. From the time I met him in prison, he was (INAUDIBLE) that we should differentiate between changing the system under which we lived, that should be our focus, and we should not focus on individuals who might or may not be playing at the time, may not be playing an important role in constructing the system. He had a fairly remarkable relationship with orders and as one of the young stars who came into prison at the time, a little -- I must admit. There were quite a few of us, large body of people, who came in there, I don't think we paced ourselves properly for the stay that we -- for the time that we were going to spend in prison.

We learned a lot from people who'd been there for a while and in time were able to pace ourselves and we also were able to cultivate relationships that were good with orders. And that made for little comfort such as, for example, getting these folks -- by these folks, I mean, prison wardens -- to help informing us of what was happening on the outside.

At the time we weren't allowed newspapers, no radio news, so it was a huge sense of isolation from the outside world. And once you got used to these folks and got to know them as people, they too became very helpful and assisted us in getting to know what was happening in the outside world.

BERMAN: It's an almost unimaginable life for so many of us. The question a lot of people were wondering is, is what now for South Africa? Do you think anything will change there now that he has passed?

SHUBANE: I think -- I think South Africa is going to have to land and do so very quickly to get and cultivate people who would play the role that Mr. Mandela played. We still need those people. The country is not in the greatest of (INAUDIBLE) right now. The economy is not working as well as it should.

There's a fair amount of poverty in the country. There are huge number of people who exist on the margins and all of those can be corrected and I'm sure we have it within ourselves to correct those problems.

But the folks who are going to have to lead us into that phase of the struggle are going to be people who are going to have to be as remarkable as Mr. Mandela. Obviously, focusing on the challenges that the country is facing now.

And apart from South Africa, our region is facing very specific challenges and I'm actually convinced we can stand up to those challenges and meet them, but that is going to require very special men and women to lead both South Africa and the countries in the region for us to get our countries out of the positions in which they are now.

BERMAN: Men and women who've learned lessons from Nelson Mandela.

Khehla Shubane, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Really appreciate the discussion.

SHUBANE: Thank you.

PEREIRA: When Nelson Mandela led an armed revolution against South Africa's anti-Apartheid government back in the 1960s, he made it clear he was prepared to die and he almost did. After nearly three decades in prison, he ascended the -- to the presidency. A survivor turned skilled politician.

We get more on Mandela's remarkable transformation from CNN's Robyn Curnow.


CURNOW (voice-over): It was here in Johannesburg that Nelson Mandela's political consciousness was awakened. An amateur boxer and trainee lawyer, as well as of the leader of the youth wing of the African National Congress, or ANC, the young Mandela made a crucial decision to fight the increasingly oppressive Apartheid state with force.

He was prepared for the worst even when he and others were tried for treason and sabotaged, acts punishable by death.

MANDELA: It is a gift. For which I am prepared to die.

CURNOW: Those words read from this original transcript from the year 1964 still resonate, says one of his legal teams from that case, George Bizos.

GEORGE BIZOS, FORMER LEGAL ADVISER: If needs be, it is an idea for which I mean prepared to die. They're words which I think will live forever.

CURNOW: They were the last words Nelson Mandela would utter in public for the next 27 years. Mandela got life imprisonment and was sent to Robben Island. While in prison Mandela continued to work towards freedom which seems so far away because South Africa's townships were burning. State of emergency was in effect and Apartheid regime never seemed stronger but he took a chance and started to secretly negotiate with the Apartheid government.

Remembers (INAUDIBLE), another former political prisoner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he has said it on occasion that there comes a time when a leader has to lead.

CURNOW: An Apartheid minister at the time and the eventual president, F.W. De Klerk remembers his first encounter with a man he considered a terrorist.

F. W. DE KLERK, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: My very first meeting with him, he was -- I didn't know what to expect and there he was standing straight as (INAUDIBLE). Taller than I expected. Being obviously a man of integrity.

CURNOW: In his own act of political bravery, De Klerk released Mandela in 1990. In the next four years, ever the astute lawyer, Mandela spearheaded the negotiations for a new constitution and democracy.

And it was only in these years, just before South Africans voted in their first democratic election that Mandela and the ANC renounced violence and their arms struggled. It had been a long war.

MANDELA: So help me God.

DE KLERK: On the day when he was inducted as president, he stood there on the terraces of the union buildings in Pretoria, and he took my hand and took it up, and he put his arm around me and we showed a unity which I think resounded throughout South Africa and across the world.

MANDELA: I will count myself as amongst the aged of our society.

CURNOW: Mandela's presidency was marked by reconciliation but Mandela gave up much more than he acknowledged. He admitted he would have liked to have spent more time with his family.

In a rare interview with CNN on his 90th birthday.

(On camera): Is there anything you wish you had done differently? I've spoken to your wife and to many of your grandchildren and they suggested that perhaps you would have wished you had spent more time with your family. Is that something you think about as you look back?

MANDELA: I'm sure many people, that is their wish, and I also have that wish, that I spend more time with my family.

CURNOW: So is that a regret of yours?

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

CURNOW (voice-over): A man who went looking back over his life, acknowledged that sacrificing his family life was for the greater good.

MANDELA: Thank you. Thank you. (INAUDIBLE) but I must now go.

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


PEREIRA: Powerful images.

BERMAN: So powerful, so remarkable.

Coming up, we're going to have continuing special coverage this morning of the life of Nelson Mandela, his message and his legacy.

PEREIRA: We have another big story that is impacting much of our country. A deadly winter storm. It has done a whole lot of damage and there is plenty more, we are told, on the way.


PEREIRA: The deep freeze is blanketing virtually all of the U.S., causing all sorts of travel nightmares on the roads and also in the air. So far already more than 500 flights have been pre-canceled. BERMAN: You know it's big if they're being pre-canceled.

PEREIRA: They're pre-canceled across the country because of this bitter, bitter weather.

What can we expect today going into the weekend?

BERMAN: Let's get an early look from our weather guy, Chad Myers.

MYERS: 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's 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 is always a mess.

Back to you guys.

PEREIRA: A mess, indeed.

BERMAN: Sounds like trouble.

PEREIRA: It really does.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Chad Myers for that.

Coming up for us next. Remembering Nelson Mandela. And the impact he's really had on so many people all around the world.

We're going to have a look back at the rock star welcome that awaited him here in the United States just after his release from prison. That is coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to "EARLY START", everyone.

So in some ways the Beatles had nothing on Nelson Mandela. When the father of South African democracy visited the United States in 1990 he'd just been released from prison and he was greeted like a rock star but he was so much more than that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN (voice-over): It was, without a doubt, a hero's welcome. For many Americans, unforgettable excitement when they saw Nelson Mandela touched down in the United States for the first time in June 1990.

Mandela embarked on a world tour just months after his release from a South African prison after more than 27 years behind bars.

MANDELA: My wife and I are deeply moved by the reception. We are truly among our own brothers and sisters.

BERMAN: Millions followed his eight-city cross-country tour. One of his first stops? New York's Yankee Stadium, where some have said he hit it out of the park.

MANDELA: You now know who I am. I am a Yankee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he put that Yankee cap on and said, "I am a Yankee," you know, naturally, the people all loved him.

BERMAN: Mandela also visited President George H.W. Bush in our nation's capital and made stops in other cities, including Atlanta, Miami, and Detroit.

On the West Coast, tens of thousands turned out for the ultimate pageant of praise.

Mandela is hailed by many as the father of democracy and throughout the years, United Nations was often at the top of his itinerary.

MANDELA: Throughout the many years of struggle, we, as South Africans, have been greatly inspired and strengthened as you took action to escalate your offensive against Apartheid rule.

BERMAN: His work garnering countless awards in the U.S. From the Human Rights Prize he accepted alongside President Jimmy Carter to the Honorary Doctrine he received from Harvard. He will be remembered most for ending Apartheid and for being elected and welcomed as the first black president of South Africa in the first open election in that country's history.

Always a fighter, Mandela showed his unwavering support during one of our darkest moment, touring Ground Zero two months after the September 11th terrorist attacks.

MANDELA: I am happy, indeed, to have been here, to be able to express my sympathies directly at the center of the tragedy. Thank you very much.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Thank you very much for coming.

BERMAN: In his last visit to the city in 2005, Mandela thanked New Yorkers for his solidarity and support in his battle against Apartheid.

MANDELA: We are here to pay tribute and say thanks to those who gave us when they even had nothing for themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People in our country, and in New York particularly, I think look at him and think of Martin Luther King who said, you turn the other cheek. He is just an amazing man.


BERMAN: How many amazing journeys he had here in the United States.

PEREIRA: Right here in the United States.

BERMAN: Incredible to see.

All right, "EARLY START" continues right now.