TODAY   |  December 06, 2013

Colin Powell: Nelson Mandela was an inspiration

The former Secretary of State said that America could learn something from the legacy of the iconic leader.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> powell the former secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff . good morning to see you. i'll start with a simple question. what did he mean to you?

>> he meant a great deal. last night when i got the news, i was initially saddened but then i rejoiced in his life. i rejoiced in a life well lived. a man that was an inspiration to me and millions of other people around the world. a man that never forgot his principles and was prepared to go to prison for as long as it took in defense of his principals and he said i'm ready to give my life for what i believe in and he triumphed. there was controversy over the years even within the american government as to how best to help this process along. i have been asked whether it should have been isolation or should have been engagement. and i think both forces pressed the white government of south africa to realize that thing hearsay to change and the only way it could change buzz by accepting nelson mandela as a full partner in that change and also fortunate that f.w. declark was there to reach across the aisle. two adversaries that couldn't be enemies any longer.

>> what makes him transcend and become a special person is how over the course of his life he change sod much and with contradictory things in a way. at one point he was a fighter. a bold and fearless fighter and later, he was a radical peacemaker.

>> well, he started out as a peacemaker. he believed in nonviolence. he was a lawyer. he believed in the law. but then he realized that wasn't going to work against the regime of apartheid so he took up violence and became on a terrorist list for a long period of tile. but then he realized that this was not the answer. and as you noted in your reports and a lot of people have noted, he went for love. he said let's reach out and show love and reconciliation. he kind of reminds me in the experience of the united states , he is our washington and our lincoln and our martin luther king all rolled in one. the founder of his country. somebody that kept the country together and in the spirit of martin luther king and madiba together, why we have to reach out to one another even though we have strong differences. we have to reach out and find compromise in order to get the consensus to move forward. that's what he did. that's the inspiration he has left for the people of south africa and the rest of the world .

>> i have to smile when you use the word love. we hear the word forgiveness and inspiration and integrity because these are qualities that are so vanishingly rare in our modern public politics.

>> that's true and we need more of it. we shouldn't be afraid to reach out to other people even though we strongly disagree with them. if we don't do that -- particularly here in the united states -- if we don't start listening to one another. if we don't start sharing with one another and sharing our anxieties and dreams and greatest ambitions with one another and try to find ways to move forward we're going to be in trouble. i hope americans will get renewed inspiration from the life and successes of nelson mandela .

>> i only have a few seconds left. you are someone who has broken a few barriers yourself. no question about that. you were there when he was ininaugurated in 1994 . what was it like for you to see that?

>> the most exciting moment imaginable to be up there on that hilltop. hundreds of vips from around the world. i was part of the clinton presidential delegation. and to know there were tens of thousands of people becostolo us in the park and, finally, the moment came when mandela came up on the stage to take the oath of office and to give his inaugural address but i will never forget the four generals of the south african defense force that lead him up as a guard of honor and i was stunned and i said look what i am seeing here in south africa , the power of the state. the military power of the state giving it's allegiance to their new president who happens to be black. and i said this is something i never thought i would see.

>> extraordinary memories. former secretary of state general colin powell . always good to have you, sir. thank you.