TODAY   |  December 07, 2013

Rev. Jesse Jackson on Mandela: ‘He chose reconciliation’

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in South Africa the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and shared his memories of the revered leader with TODAY’s Lester Holt.

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

>> reporter: no doubt that everyone has a story from that time. reverend jesse jackson was in capetown, south africa , the day that nelson mandela was released from prison. thanks for coming on with us, reverend.

>> good morning, lester.

>> reporter: take me back to the day in capetown 23 years ago. i think the world held its breath not knowing which way things would go when mandela rah released. what rur memoriare your memories?

>> he was challenging that kinship between the u.s. and britain and south africa to end their apartheid regime. he was put on the terrorist list and to his lasting credit, president george bush kicked him off the terrorist list july 1st , 2008 , for that long. yet, through all of that, he made some tough choices. a wonderful moment of receiving him. he was so clear on what his options were and he chose, at that time, reconciliation over revenge and retaliation. that was when we took his struggle to another moral plane.

>> reverend jackson, i think you made this point at the time that he was released while he was free from jail he was not a free man because he was a black man in south africa at the time. was it clear to you that reconciliation would take place and if this would bring about change?

>> it was clear to me that he knew that honor ian suffering was redempive. he knew if he went another way there would be an ending blood bath and terrorist war inside south africa . he really wanted -- he would not allow the suffering he had gone through to deter his vision from a nonracist apartheid -- a nonracist south africa . i remember talking to him on one occasion, lester. the thing that stands out in my mind, asked him when he was caught in jail. he said he came the command of the military force he and oliver tumbo and blowing up railroads to get south africa 's attention. the demonstration and legal approach would not work and they were moving to -- the school. he said he was so glad they were called because he would spend 27 years in jail than the innocent blood on his hand. that shows to me the soul of the man.

>> reporter: i want to get your thoughts as someone who has walked among civil rights giants and nelson mandela , and martin luther king . how aware were the two of them aware to their roles in the struggles?

>> dr. king went to jail in '63 and so did nelson mandela . dr. king in his address referenced the struggle in south africa . the kinship from the american corporations and south africa and our government that was a part of it. also the things that we did here enabled mandela's freedom. for example, the '65 riots act that changed the course in this country. blacks could vote for the first time in the south and women could vote and you could vote on campuses and bilanguagebilanguageally. it clouded the sanctions on south africa led by congressman randell o. it seems to me our struggle and their struggle coincided very well.

>> reporter: we appreciate your thoughts on this day, remembering nelson mandela . thank you.