Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
Books He’s Written:
A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales
In His Own Words
…as well as forwards for several books
Short bio: A renowned world leader, married three times, and having spent nearly three decades of his life in prison after renouncing apartheid, Nelson Mandela is a role model and
Larry King Live
President Nelson Mandela One-on-One
Aired May 16, 2000 – 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a legendary world leader in a rare one-on-one interview, Nelson Mandela for the full hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It is our special honor tonight to have as our guest a gentleman I’ve looked forward to, to having on this program ever since this program began, President Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, the 1993 Nobel Prize winner, who spent 26 years of his life in a prison because he wanted freedom. Not only did he get freedom, he got to be the president of his country. I got to meet him in South Africa when we were there a couple months ago. An honor to have him with us tonight.
When, Mr. President — how early on in life were you angry? When did you get mad at what you had to live with?
NELSON MANDELA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: I cannot remember, but everything that I’m going to say here must be understood from the point of view that I was a member of an organization which had believed in collective leadership, teamwork, a team of highly qualified men and women who made an enormous contribution to the struggle, and…
KING: Were you very young when that started?
MANDELA: Well, I started in 1944 when I joined the African National Congress Youth League.
KING: You were a lawyer, right?
MANDELA: Yes, I was a lawyer as from 1952.
KING: Did you ever practice law in South…
MANDELA: Yes, I did. I did until, of course, I was — I went underground, and thereafter, I was arrested.
KING: When did — were you a — you were a revolutionary. Were you a terrorist? Did you ever commit acts of aggression, violence?
MANDELA: Well, terrorism depends on…
KING: … who wins.
MANDELA: That’s right. I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.
KING: And they’re very thankful that you chose not to be angry. We will get to all of that.
MANDELA: Thank you.
KING: All right. You were charged — why were you arrested? What were they after you for?
MANDELA: Well, of course, I was — I appeared in a number of cases, but in the Rivonia trial which sent me to prison, we were charged precisely for terrorist activities.
KING: Amounting to treason?
MANDELA: Amounting to treason. We could have got a death sentence.
KING: Why didn’t they give you a death sentence?
MANDELA: Well, I think that South Africa was completely isolated by the world as a result of the activities of our people, led by one of the ablest leaders South Africa has produced, people like Oliver Tambo, and they had completely isolated South Africa, and that, during the trial, many countries, like Lord Hume…
KING: In London.
MANDELA: … in London, like people like the president of the Soviet Union at the time, the president of India, and many others made representation that a death sentence should not be imposed.
KING: So they gave you life in prison, right?
MANDELA: Oh, certainly. They gave us life, yes.
KING: When that was — how old were you then?
MANDELA: Well, that was in 1964.
KING: So we’re talking 36 years ago.
KING: You were…
MANDELA: Well, I was…
KING: … in your 40s. MANDELA: Yes, I was in my 40s at that point in 19…
KING: What was that moment like when they said, “Life in prison”?
MANDELA: We were triumphant because…
KING: You’re kidding.
MANDELA: … throughout that trial, we used the courtroom as a platform to address the country and the world.
KING: But you knew you were going to be put away for life.
MANDELA: No, we expected that. We also expected the death sentence because our lawyers thought it was their duty to tell us that the prosecution was going to ask for a death sentence, especially against some of us…
KING: And you included.
MANDELA: … including Mr. Walter Sisulu, myself, Nkova (ph) Mbeki, the father of the present president.
KING: And you would have accepted — what could you have done?
MANDELA: Well, in court we challenged the government, we said that the government should be in the docket, not us. That was our stand.
KING: Pretty arrogant.
MANDELA: Well, it may be. It may be.
KING: So you marched out of that courtroom for life in prison acting like a winner.
MANDELA: That was the point, because we believed that the death sentence was going to be passed on some of us and, therefore, we should be role models and disappear under a cloud of glory. That is what we decided to do.
KING: Did you ever believe you would get out?
MANDELA: Well, I must be frank, one of the things that inspired us in prison was the fact that the ideas for which we were in prison were quite alike, and that our people and the international community were supporting us, but there were moments when it appeared that the government had crushed the resistance inside the country, and it was natural that we should have doubts where that would come out, but those moments were few and far between.
KING: We’ll talk about that and other things — how you handled prison, life after prison, and other things about the horror that was apartheid with one of the great, if not the greatest, figures of the 20th century. A recent novelist said, if there were two people you want to meet in this century, it would be Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa.
We’ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’re back with Nelson Mandela.
Did you ever explain to yourself apartheid? I mean, did you ever understand it, why people were held in mass slavery in a sense?
MANDELA: Well, it’s difficult to understand such a phenomenon, but I think that in a country like South Africa where the overwhelming majority of the population were black and that the ruling party merely about 14 percent of the population, they regarded it as the best way to protect white supremacy, to cut us out completely from all the rights of citizenship.
KING: And how did you even deal — explain that to yourselves?
MANDELA: Well, we did not explain it. We just said…
KING: It’s wrong.
MANDELA: … it’s wrong and racism is a characteristic feature of South Africa. We must fight it to the death.
KING: Twenty-six years in prison. Tell — take me back to the beginning. You — were you taken right to the jail in Cape Town?
MANDELA: Well, I was first imprisoned in Pretoria, and then, thereafter, I was taken to Robben Island. I stayed there for a couple of weeks. I was taken back to Pretoria when I was charged in the Rivonia trial, when I was then sent to Robben Island for life.
KING: And Robben Island is, kind of, South Africa’s Alcatraz, right? It’s an island across from Cape Town. Did you get to see the beauty of Cape Town every day?
MANDELA: Oh, yes we did. No, we did. And we looked forward to going out to work because if you were on the eastern part of the island, you could then see Cape Town, Table Mountain. You could actually see the models moving around and, especially, what is called the Deval Drive (ph). And, it was very lovely to work on that part of the island.
KING: What kind of work? MANDELA: Well, different. We start, first, with crushing stones, making gravel for the roads. Then, we went to the quarry and dug a quarry again for the roads. But, as time went on, we got friendly with the wardens, and I would come talk to them to say: What is going on there? We loved that work near the rubbish dump.
MANDELA: Because we could then salvage newspapers, which were thrown away. We were not getting newspapers for a long time and we could then get the newspapers, clean them, and go and read them in the evening in prison.
KING: How were you treated by your guards? They don’t call them guards. They call them wardens, right?
KING: How did they treat you?
MANDELA: Well, we had to fight for better treatment. The treatment, at first, was very bad for all of us. But, as a result of the fight that we put up, our situation improved.
KING: How did you — how can you fight the system?
MANDELA: Well, first, we staged a number of hunger strikes and — which is one of the best weapons which the prisoners had. We also refused to carry out humiliating instructions, and were punished for that. And — but we insisted.
And then, of course, we had — the Red — the International Red Cross, which would come to the island, and before they come, they would, of course, relax and, they would say: No, you don’t have to work all day. If you wanted to go for a walk, you want to go to the wash room, you are free to do so. Then, we knew that somebody important was coming.
KING: Were you allowed visitors?
MANDELA: Yes, we were allowed visitors at first, one visitor every six months, every six months, your close family, your wife or your children or your brothers, but nobody outside that family as now already defined.
KING: What kept you going?
MANDELA: Well, I was surrounded — I was in prison with highly capable men, some of whom had the highest educational qualifications, who had obtained their degrees overseas, and men who were widely traveled, and it was a real pleasure and inspiration to sit down and get to talk to them. And then, secondly, we were able to read very good literature.
KING: After a while, they let you have books and stuff? MANDELA: Yes, yes, literature such as Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” and other classics, “Grapes of Wrath,” and we were able to enjoy ourselves, especially me, with biographical works and history.
KING: You told me when we were at your home that prison wasn’t a waste, that you used the time — explain.
MANDELA: That is true. Well, especially for those of us who lived in single cells, you had the time to sit down and think, and we discovered that sitting down just to think is one of the best ways of keeping yourself fresh and able, to be able to address the problems facing you, and you had the opportunity also, of examining your past. You could stand away from yourself in the past and examine whether your behavior was befitting to a person who tried to serve society, and there are many cases in which I felt ashamed of myself.
KING: We’ll pick right up on that right after this with Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela.
Don’t go away.
KING: So, Nelson Mandela’s in prison. He’s using the time. What did you look back to say, I did wrong?
MANDELA: Well, when I came to Johannesburg from the countryside, I knew nobody, but many strangers were very kind to me. I then was dragged into politics and then, subsequently, I became a lawyer. I became so busy that I never thought about the people who were so kind to me, who made life bearable for me.
But it was when I was in prison, when I had the opportunity to sit down and think that I felt that I did something inexcusable, somebody who is unable to acknowledge hospitality when nobody knew you and that people went out of their way to be kind to you. For me, when I became a lawyer, to have forgotten about them was something that was painful to me.
KING: And, in prison, you got the chance to think about that?
MANDELA: I did.
KING: Were you allowed conjugal visits? Could your wife visit you?
MANDELA: Yes, our wives would visit us, but not in the sense of a conjugal visit, where you can have physical contact with them. For a long time, you were separated by a glass wall with the wardens breathing on your shoulders, listening very carefully to what you say.
I only had the advantage of conjugal visits when, in 1988, I was then separated from the others and thus removed to a different prison, then my wife could come and sleep in prison, but she refused to do so, a decision which I fully supported.
MANDELA: Because that privilege was not enjoyed by other prisoners, by my colleagues, and I saw no reason why …
KING: So, you denied yourself sexual pleasure because others couldn’t have it?
MANDELA: No, I — yes, I was forced because we had been brought up, as I say, in an organization that believed in collective leadership …
KING: One for all, all for one.
MANDELA: … collective suffering, and I couldn’t enjoy privileges which my own people, my own colleagues in other prisons did not enjoy.
KING: How did you live without that in your life? I mean, you’re a vibrant man. You’ve had many children, grandchildren. How did you live without physical contact?
MANDELA: Well, it is easy. I mean, it’s sometimes very difficult. I had to forget about things that you were used to. But, prison life, fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners and, as I say, they enriched your soul. The type of conversations we had, the experiences we shared…
KING: You also…
MANDELA: … and, when I went alone then, when I was isolated I was used to it.
KING: You also made friends with wardens, did you not? Some came to your inauguration.
MANDELA: Yes, certainly. Well, that was something very important, which influenced our own approach because, in prison, there was a debate amongst other wardens, some saying, let us be tough on these people to save white supremacy, they must never regard the prison as a five-star hotel.
But the other says, no, we have to be very careful because, in history, these people frequently win, let us treat them well in accordance with the regulations, so that if they ever win and form the government, they should also treat us well. We took advantage of that and supported those wardens who put forward this attitude and would benefit tremendously because we became aware if it were not that even the apartheid supporters are not monolithic. There are those who are thinking in a humane manner.
KING: And you told me some of them were illiterate. You helped them write letters and some of them…
MANDELA: Oh, yes.
KING: … had lawsuits… MANDELA: Of course.
KING: … you helped them file lawsuits, right?
MANDELA: Yes, that’s true.
KING: So, you were friendly to them?
MANDELA: No, no, no, we did that, because in prison, the government settles those things. The top fellows did not care for juniors. They treated them, you know, like rags. And we brought about a change, because we looked upon everybody as a human being with hopes and aspirations and that is how we treated them.
KING: More about the life and times of Nelson Mandela and the incredible story of his release and then the presidency and his boxing career, too.
Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There’s Mr. Mandela, Mr. Nelson Mandela, a free man taking his first steps into a new South Africa.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the man who the world has been waiting to see, his first public appearance in nearly three decades, 72 years old, walking strongly, step by step, further into freedom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’re back with Nelson Mandela.
Tell us about how you learned they were letting you out.
MANDELA: I became aware that I was being released when I was invited by President de Klerk, and I had a discussion with him.
KING: He took you out of prison?
MANDELA: He took me out of prison.
KING: To where?
MANDELA: To Stainhess (ph), which is the office of the president in Cape Town.
KING: Someone had to tie your tie, right?
You forgot how to tie… MANDELA: No, that was P.W. Botha before …
KING: Oh, when you were dealing with Botha.
MANDELA: … de Klerk became president. And when I went to see him because I wanted to convince him that it is important that the government and the aides, they should sit down and negotiate. That is when they bought me a new suit and then a warden came in the morning and found that I was not properly dressed and untied my tie, because …
KING: But that was with Botha, right?
MANDELA: That was with P.W. Botha.
KING: But it was de Klerk who let you out?
MANDELA: It was de Klerk who let me out.
KING: And he set — what was that meeting like?
MANDELA: Well, he called me at about 6:00 in the afternoon.
KING: In the morning?
MANDELA: No, in the afternoon.
KING: You were in your cell?
KING: You were in your cell?
MANDELA: No, no, no. They took me to Stainhess again.
MANDELA: And they then told me that: Look, you’re being released on Saturday. We are going to fly you to Cape Town, keep you there for a day or two, and then deliver you to your family. So, my attitude was: No, no, no, I want to be released in Victor Verster, the prison where I was, and I don’t want to be taken to Johannesburg. I’ll make my own way.
MANDELA: It is because I wanted, first and foremost, to greet the people of Cape Town who actually had looked after me and especially, the people of Verster, I mean, of Paari in the district in which my prison — last prison.
KING: So, you wanted to go out where they took you in?
MANDELA: Yes, no, no, I wanted to go out to there.
KING: Yes. MANDELA: And then I also asked that, look, give me three weeks before you release me, because I wanted my people to prepare for my release.
KING: Wait a minute, you could have gotten out the next day …
KING: … after 26 years, and you asked for three more weeks to stay in?
MANDELA: Yes, quite. I was keen to go out, but I wanted my people to arrange for my release so that they can welcome me properly, especially the people of Paari because they looked after me very well and I wanted to have the opportunity for them to come so that I can say to them: Thank you for what you have done for me.
KING: We’ll be back with the incredible Nelson Mandela on this special one-hour journey through a man’s life after this.
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MANDELA: I, Nelson Mandela, do hereby serve to the faithful of the Republic of South Africa.
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KING: We’re back with Nelson Mandela.
I’ve said 26. You were 27 years in prison, and you count the days, yes.
MANDELA: Twenty seven, that’s correct, yes.
KING: A year is a year. Although, with you, you would have asked to stay another year, if people could have planned it.
Did you ever think, as you were going to leave, that you would some day be president of your country?
MANDELA: No. As I say, our attitude is made up as a result of collective leadership.
KING: Yes, but someone has to be the leader.
MANDELA: That’s right. But, Oliver Tambo, my friend, we were together at Wasages (ph). Then, we formed the Youth League together and, of course, with others, and then, we formed a legal partnership, and I came to know him very closely and to respect him. I used to say: If I parted with Oliver Tambo, I would know that I was on the wrong.
KING: So you thought he would be …
KING: … the leader?
MANDELA: Yes, no, he was the leader of our organization.
KING: Tell me about the day you walked out.
MANDELA: Well, before I walked out of the prison, the SABC phoned …
KING: That’s the South African police?
MANDELA: That’s right, custom corporation.
MANDELA: They phoned from the gate to say: Please, when you reach the gate, get out of the car, because we want to photograph you walking toward the gate.
Now, I am very bad in anticipation. I expected just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the wardens I had asked to go and wait for me at the gate, together with their families, so that I could thank them for the way they looked after me. But I was shocked when I found that the crowd at the gate — I was completely nonplused.
KING: Thousands, right?
MANDELA: Yes, thousands. And — but I had nevertheless walked toward the gate and I could not even see those wardens I had asked to stand at the gate there because of the crowds and…
KING: Well, what were you thinking as you walked?
MANDELA: No, I was thinking, of course, of freedom, that now I’m going to have the opportunity of joining my beloved family, my children and my people. I am now going to do something creative in order to help to speed up the liberation of my people.
KING: He has been on this program. I met him the day before I saw you in South Africa. Frederik de Klerk now studies racism with a concept of his own, a foundation of his own …
KING: … and a wonderful film. Sidney Poitier played you and Michael Caine played him.
What do you think of de Klerk? How important is he in this whole story?
MANDELA: Well, I am concentrating on one aspect, President de Klerk has a place in history, because he had the decision to realize that at the time of apartheid was up, and he had therefore the courage to come out to say: We must release political prisoners. We must unban the African National Congress, the Communist Party, Nkuda Wasusi (ph), the PAC.
And so, he has a place in history because we were alone. The African National Congress, the PAC, Azapo (ph), the Liberal Party and other individuals, we were alone in destroying white supremacy, but we could not have effected the transformation alone. So, President de Klerk played a critical role in that.
KING: All right, now, why or — people were worried when you were coming into prominence to be president that if you were angry, and many white South African has told me this, if you were angry and wanted revenge, there would be a lot of bloodshed.
KING: But, logically, you should have been angry. Logically, you should have wanted revenge. Why not?
MANDELA: Well, you have to understand the thinking of the men around me in prison, especially those who spent long terms of imprisonment. They lost an opportunity to serve their people during those years, and they were, therefore, determined to catch up. They could only catch up if they were properly focused and concentrating on both things, which will help out the liberation of their people. I am not the only one who did not want revenge. Almost all my colleagues in prison did not want revenge, because there is no time to do anything else except to try and save your people.
KING: Didn’t you hate your white captors?
MANDELA: No, because one has to take into account that many people in the situation in which we were — a promotion to higher position depended on the extent to which you supported apartheid and, therefore, good people would have the attitude — had the attitude — a forced attitude of saying, “I want promotion. Therefore, I must do what my superiors want me to do.”
KING: I see. But you were able to understand that?
MANDELA: Oh, yes. Our experience in jail made us understand that because some of the wardens spoke openly to us, and they became friendly, and they wouldn’t do anything to us which was below our dignity.
KING: We’ll be back with more of Nelson Mandela after this.
KING: By the way, you like boxing, right, as an aside? You boxed, didn’t you?
MANDELA: Oh, yes. I did. I…
KING: Did you want to be a professional boxer?
MANDELA: No, not a professional, but amateur. And, of course, our hero in those days was Joe Louis, people like Joe Walcott… KING: Oh, you know them all, huh?
MANDELA: These were our heroes.
KING: And Ali much later on.
MANDELA: Oh, well, Muhammad Ali is a young man, but..
KING: That’s right. Yes, he’s a kid.
MANDELA: Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier — those are legends, and they are people who also are political, because every time I came to the United States of America, they gave me a lot of support, people like Evander Holyfield, like Mike Tyson, like Sugar Ray Leonard, they were all very good to us.
KING: And Bill Clinton is a very good friend, is he not, of yours?
MANDELA: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Bill Clinton and I became friendly long before either of us became president, and he helped me a great deal.
KING: And he has told me he regards you as the greatest leader of this century.
MANDELA: Well, I regard him, by the way, as one of the best leaders of the United States of America.
KING: Why did you want to be president of your country?
MANDELA: Now, that’s an important question, because when I was asked to be president, I refused because I was 75 and I said South Africa needs a young man because our politics are very robust, and I preferred personally either the present president, Thabo Mbeki, or Sero Romapulsa (ph), and — but I was forced to take the position.
MANDELA: Especially because Oliver Tambo, who really overshadowed all of us in his wisdom, his commitment, his humility, but he had the stroke and he eventually died.
KING: So you were the logical person to be the first president?
MANDELA: I wouldn’t say that because you had people like Walter Sisulu. You had…
KING: You were the most famous name.
MANDELA: Well, I was…
KING: Certainly, you were.
MANDELA: Well, I was made so by my organization. They deliberately decided to use me in order to mobilize the organization and the international community.
KING: And, at the same time, your marriage ended, right?
MANDELA: Yes, right. Yes.
KING: Was that very difficult for you to face a personal problem while involved in a political — we have a mayor of New York with the same kind of problem.
MANDELA: Yes, quite. Well, I sympathize with Mayor Giuliani, but my former wife is a remarkable person whom I respect even today. She suffered a great deal and kept the name Mandela alive when I was in jail. She also looked after my children and played a very prominent role in the struggle, but there were certain personal things I will not go into which made it difficult for us to live together.
KING: You liked being…
MANDELA: But she is a remarkable lady.
KING: Did you like being president?
KING: It’s not a bad job for someone in the prison.
MANDELA: No, I enjoyed it more because of the people around me, but I must indicate to you, right from the beginning, the President Thabo Mbeki played a very important role. I came from prison. He never enjoyed the Youth. He went abroad and helped the president, Oliver Tambo. He was able to meet heads of states.
KING: In exile almost.
MANDELA: In exile, yes.
KING: Why did it succeed when everyone was thinking that you couldn’t run a country, you’d been in prison for 27 years, how could the blacks run things, you know, the whites had been in control all these years, they weren’t educated enough, et cetera? How did it work?
MANDELA: Well, that’s an important question, because if you are talking about the government in the United States of America or somewhere in Europe, you are dealing with people who are prepared…
MANDELA: … for governance, who went to the best schools, and who had parents with a high level of education.
KING: Hold it right there, because I want to get the answer. I’ve got to take one more break.
MANDELA: OK. KING: We’ll be right back with Nelson Mandela and answer that question of why it worked and then some current things right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is in our profound interest to support the positive changes in Africa’s life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the miracle you have wrought here in South Africa, and I think everyone knows that the most important reasons for our success is President Mandela.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK, why did it work?
MANDELA: Well, I say that, that is a question you must always consider, because we had no experience in governance whatsoever.
MANDELA: Our people were in exile, others were working underground under difficult conditions, still others were in jail. Then, suddenly, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were asked to run this country, but — excuse me — our people had the experience of mobilizing the international community, being in touch with government leaders, and they acquired a practical experience in running affairs, and that is why they became so successful as a government, even though they had no previous training in government.
KING: And you, of course, take — I — when I flew back on South African Airlines, the two pilots were Afrikaaners, and they worship you. They think you saved South Africa, and they all said the same, if you were angry that country was in trouble.
Did you have any inner anger?
KING: No inner anger?
MANDELA: I try to — it’s unfair to attribute what happened in South Africa to all individuals. I played a part as part of a team, and…
KING: Where is your ego?
MANDELA: No, the ego lies in the fact that I share it with men and women, some of whom are more capable than me. That is my ego.
KING: And many died in this effort?
MANDELA: Oh, yes, absolutely.
KING: Some current things: Sierra Leone, we are not going to send troops. The revolutionaries seem to hold a lot of eggs in their basket. What do you think is going to happen?
MANDELA: Well, I am going to discuss this matter with President Clinton tomorrow, because that the solution for that situation is that the Nigerian army, which is conversant with the situation, should go back and defend it, and they are the people who have got the experience and who can deal with this rebel in an effective and ruthless manner, but that they must be given resources to do so.
KING: You agree with us giving resources, but you don’t think America should send its troops?
MANDELA: Well, I would welcome America sending its troops. I would welcome that. And I believe — I haven’t ascertained this, but yesterday I got the information that actually Britain has put its army inside Sierra Leone.
MANDELA: Not only to rescue its nationals, but I believe they’re inside Sierra Leone.
KING: Oh, that’s news.
MANDELA: But I will still ascertain this, because I got it from a reliable source yesterday. Now, if that happens, then I know that the days of the rebels and all their destructive activities are numbered.
KING: And you meet with the president tomorrow?
MANDELA: I meet with the president tomorrow.
KING: So the British navy, that’s — we’ll follow that up.
We’ll be back with our remaining moments with Nelson Mandela right after this.
KING: You have how many children?
MANDELA: Well, I can’t remember now.
KING: Grandchildren, you have a lot.
MANDELA: No, I have five — six grandchildren, and two passed away. I now have four. But I have 29 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
KING: And tell me about the current Mrs. Mandela? MANDELA: Well, that’s a wonderful lady.
KING: How did you meet?
MANDELA: Well, I went to Mozambique in 1990 when I returned from the United States of America. I went around Africa and I also went to Mozambique. That’s how I met her. I knew of her because her husband, the late Samura Merced (ph), was one of the outstanding African statesmen and he was my hero. And although he came up while I was still in jail — but he was a remarkable man. And then when I went to Mozambique I asked to see his wife, and so, that’s how we met.
KING: Are you happy?
MANDELA: Oh, very happy indeed, very, very happy. She’s a wonderful lady.
KING: Do you like — well, you’re not retired are you? You still go around helping people?
MANDELA: No, I am retired. I have left everything now to President Thabo Mbeki, who is doing a remarkable job. But I do things on the fringes and — which I enjoy.
KING: You still like traveling? You still like playing a part in world affairs?
MANDELA: Well, not that I like traveling. I prefer staying at home, writing my memoirs of the presidential years.
KING: You are doing that now?
MANDELA: Yes, I’m doing that. But I could not avoid going to Burundi, because I was asked by the leaders of the Great Lakes, as well as President Thabo Mbeki to undertake this role, and I couldn’t say no. But after Burundi, I think I’ll have more time to stay at home.
KING: How about your health? You’re how old?
MANDELA: Now, my health, I’m on top of the world.
KING: How old are you?
MANDELA: Well, I’m now 82 — I’ll be 82 in July.
KING: And nothing — everything good, the organs are OK?
MANDELA: No, no, no, everything is all right. I have a regular medical check-ups and they say I won’t die this week.
KING: Only your knees, right? You have trouble walking stairs.
MANDELA: Yes, my knees, they was injured in jail, and it chipped and little bone between the joints. And so, there has been an argument between my doctors, the military wanted to give me an artificial (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but my cardiologist said: Do you get pains? I said: No, I have no pains, except perhaps when I walk up the steps or going down. But if I’m walking, it doesn’t hurt. There are no pains at all. And he says: no operation.
KING: When you look back, we only have a minute or so left.
MANDELA: Yes, go ahead.
KING: You had a remarkable life, what do you think about it? What do you want us to think about you?
MANDELA: No, that must be left to future generations, because what happens today may not be shared by future generations. So, it’s better for us to leave to others to charge the role which one has played.
KING: Do you ever go and look at the prison?
MANDELA: Yes, I like to do that.
KING: You do?
MANDELA: I always like to go back on to Robben Island and go on to Pollsmoor, I go to Victor Verster, and I like visiting other prisons, to see people and to make them happy.
KING: Thank you so much.
MANDELA: Thank you, Larry. Thank you very much. It has been my pleasure.
KING: What can you say?
Nelson Mandela, who will meet with President Clinton tomorrow, he was with us tonight. We thank him very much.
Stay tuned for “CNN NEWSSTAND.”
From New York, good-night.
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Nelson Mandela Celebrates 90th Birthday
(CNN) — Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid icon, Nobel peace laureate and South Africa’s first black president, celebrated his 90th birthday Friday by doing something he had indicated he would not do again — grant an interview to journalists.
Mandela sits at the 6th Nelson Mandela Lecture in Soweto, Johannesburg.
A cheerful-looking Mandela welcomed CNN’s Robyn Curnow, along with reporters from two other organizations, into the sitting room of his home in Qunu, a small village in the rolling hills of South Africa’s eastern Cape region where he grew up.
“What day is this?” Mandela joked, pretending not to realize it was his birthday.
He used a smile to dodge Curnow’s first question of what was his favorite memory from his long life. He did say he was very happy to have lived to be 90.
Mandela credited his longevity to the way he conducted his life. He is known to be disciplined with his diet and exercise.
Asked if, in hindsight, he wishes he had spent more time with his family, he answered yes.
“I don’t regret it because the things that attracted me were things that pleased my soul.”
Mandela then lamented the gap between rich and poor in South Africa.
This was Mandela’s first meeting with reporters since he announced in 2004 that he would give no more interviews. While he stayed out of the spotlight over the last four years, he has stayed busy with his charitable causes.
All week residents of Qunu, 600 miles south of Johannesburg, have been making preparations for the celebrations. Events planned include a soccer festival, a pop concert and lunch for 500 politicians, veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle and other guests at his home Saturday.
An exhibition of letters that children wrote to Mandela and the late U.S. civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks will be displayed at the Nelson Mandela Museum, a short distance from his house.
“We are very excited,” local school principal Mpondomise Ndzambo told the Associated Press, sitting in his office beneath a photograph of the former president. “Usually these celebrations are done in Johannesburg, so this is a way of being part of it.”
In 1964, a court sentenced Mandela to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. He spent the first 18 years at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town, South Africa, and later spent time at Pollsmoor prison and Victor Verster Prison, closer to the mainland.
While in prison, Mandela became recognized as the most significant black leader in South Africa, and he became a potent symbol of resistance in the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.
South Africa’s last apartheid-era president who also served as Mandela’s vice president, F.W. de Klerk, released Mandela in February 1990 after 27 years in prison. Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress the following year, and in 1994, he was elected president of his country.
As South Africa’s first black president — he only ran for one term — Mandela ushered in a democratic, multiracial society that is still going strong.
In a fitting tribute de Klerk described Mandela as “one of the greatest figures of the 20th century,” AP reported.
Mandela’s recent birthday tribute concert in London’s Hyde Park marked the 20 year anniversary of the Free Mandela event that was held in the same city to demand his release from prison.
During the concert a frail Mandela told cheering fans, “Your voices carried across the water to inspire us in our prison cells far away. Tonight, we can stand before you free.
“We are honored to be back in London for this wonderful occasion.
“But even as we celebrate, let us remind ourselves that our work is far from complete.
“Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings are being oppressed, there is more work to be done. Our work is for freedom for all.”
Proceeds from the London concert went toward the 46664 Campaign, which Mandela founded in 2003 to raise awareness about the impact of AIDS, especially in Africa, and to promote HIV-prevention measures around the world.
The name of the charity represents Mandela’s prison number when he was incarcerated at Robben Island. Organizers put 46,664 tickets up for sale.