December 8th, 2013

Nelson Mandela’s Life and Legacy on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS

CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features a discussion about Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy with  Peter Godwin, a former human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe, foreign correspondent at BBC, and author of the book Wild at Heart: Man and Beast in Southern Africa (2008), which features a forward written by Nelson Mandela, Peter Beinart, an associate professor of journalism at the City University of New York and a senior political writer at Newsweek Daily Beast, and Khehla Shubane, a political prisoner at Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, who also became the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

A transcript is available after the jump.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST:  This is GPS, the Global Public Square.  Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world.  I’m Fareed Zakaria, coming to you live today from New York.  We’ll start today’s show with Nelson Mandela, and we will ask, what happened to his legacy in Africa and beyond?  I have a great panel, including one of Mandela’s close confidants.  Then, the man who until this summer, was President Obama’s top adviser on national security, Tom Donilon, on the Iran deal and on why he says the U.S. does not need to cut a deal with Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  Next, how to understand the booming American economy?  I’ll ask the man who presided over great growth, and some critics charge also helped create many bubbles.  Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan.

And as we approach the first anniversary of the Newtown massacre, what can the U.S. learn from other nations about gun policy?  I’ll take you to Japan for a fascinating look at a nation that loves violent video games, but has a gun death rate that is very different from America’s.  It’s a preview of a GPS special airing tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

But, first, here’s my take.  When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, I remember being struck by how old-fashioned he seemed.  He spoke with the language, cadence and manner of figures from the 1940s and 1950s.

As someone who grew up in India, he reminded me of the videos I had seen of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru and the other great national leaders form the post-colonial who had lead their countries to freedom.

He had the same formal way of speaking and dressing, the same dignity of bearing, the same sense of history.  And Mandela really was a throwback to an older time of great leaders, who through courage and sheer willpower, changed the course of history.

Twenty-seven years in prison had kept intact his manners, but also his morals.  His most important act, of course, was forgiveness, but he didn’t just talk about reconciliation, he took painful actions to make it real.

He learned the language of his oppressors and studied their culture.  Even after the election of a new government with a new constitution, Mandela made sure that the old Afrikaans establishment, the civil service, the army, even the hated police was largely kept in place.

The white business class was encouraged to participate actively in the new South Africa.  Compare that to so many transitions, for example, Iraq, where the new regime came in, fired or jailed or killed everyone from the old and a 10-year civil war followed.

Instead of vengeance, Mandela sought truth and reconciliation.  He was not a saint, but rather a political genius.  He did what he did because it saved his country.

When he came to power, many wondered how he would steer the new country’s foreign policy.  After all, the African National Congress, which he headed, had been supported by the revolutionaries of the world, Gadhafi, Arafat, Castro.

But Mandela knew what was in his country’s best interest.  He steered it in a pro-Western, pro-democratic, pro-market direction.  And, yet, he kept faith with his old comrades, honoring them, never forgetting their support when he and his movement were in the wilderness.

His final act of greatness was leaving office.  Very few black, African leaders had ever left office voluntarily in 1999 when Nelson Mandela did, after just one term.

He wanted to make sure that South African democracy did not descend into a cult of personality or dynasty.  He was, in this sense, South Africa’s George Washington.

As much as one man can shape a country’s future, Nelson Mandela did it for South Africa.  And, in doing so, he also shaped the conscious of the entire world.

Let’s get started.

Let’s go live to Johannesburg to CNN’s Robyn Curnow.  She’s been reporting on Mandela for almost 20 years.  She joins us from outside his home in Johannesburg.

Robyn, there’s a lot of talk about prayer and reflection.  Today’s the day of prayer and reflection, lots of religious ceremonies planned.  What was I wondering, I wanted to ask you, was Mandela a man of deep faith?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  No, he wasn’t a man of faith.  His family have told me that he believed in infinity.  He got his strength, and I saw it over the years, from this real sense of self-confidence, his inner discipline.

He drew himself from his himself and I think he was a very contained character, very introverted and that’s where he seemed to get his strength from, his spirituality, rather than from a god.

He was born Methodist and what you will see though over the coming days, particularly at his funeral, there’s going to be an interesting mix of African tradition, Xhosa tradition and Western traditions.

And what is also important I think is that he felt rooted to his community, to the Xhosa tribe in the Qunu region, more than he did feel rooted perhaps or connected to a god.

So what we are seeing, at the moment, is that tribal leaders are going to be accompanying his body along the way until its buried talking to him all the time in a ceremony called “Closing of the Eyes” where they’ve been talking to the ancestors, helping him transition to the after-world.

It’s more about that than it is about some sort of traditional believe in religion.

ZAKARIA:  And Robyn, we can tell, we can see around you people are mourning, but what — when you talk to them, what is their sense of loss, what are they mourning?

CURNOW:  You know, they’re of course mourning Nelson Mandela.  But just remember Mandela was like a mirror.  He reflected back to South Africa what they wanted to be, what this nation imagined itself to be, perhaps an idealistic vision.

Today, 20 years later, this is a very complicated, often divided at times nation.  Now, what they also I think are mourning is that very visionary leadership we saw in Mandela.

I mean you spoke about it little bit earlier.  He really played the long game, didn’t he?  He looked ahead.  He planned.  He was a tactician.  He was a pragmatist.  He was a man who really thought about being a symbol of reconciliation.

Now compare that with President Zuma whose leadership and whose government seems to lurch from crisis to crisis.  There seems to be an overwhelming focus on scandals, over personal enrichment, whether it’s linked to President Zuma or all those close to him.

You know, they seem to be have — according to many South Africans, there’s a real focus of this current government on the trappings of power, of using the state to protect the elites or at least to further the interests of the elites and President Zuma.

That is the kind of contradiction and that’s what South Africans are seeing now in the current ANC leadership and asking has the ANC, Mandela’s Party, lost its way.

So I think there’s a lot of inner thinking, a lot of digestion of what South Africa is now, what Mandela wanted it to be and what South Africans wanted it to be 20 years ago.

And I think many people here are not here just to mourn a man.  They may be also mourning the vision of a country they hoped for.

But, also, I think there’s a lot of talk that there’s a responsibility that they have to continue Mandela’s vision.  There’s an invigorated sense of enthusiasm and I think that’s what’s key.

A lot of people saying we cannot betray his vision.  We’ve got to work harder.  So let’s see if that translates into some sort of political impetus.

ZAKARIA:  Thank you, Robyn Curnow.  Fascinating.

We will be right back.  We will continue this conversation about Mandela’s legacy and whether it has been squandered.  A great panel coming up, including a man who was with Mandela in prison.

Later on, my conversation with Alan Greenspan.  We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA:  So what has become of Nelson Mandela’s legacy, of the promise that Africa seemed to hold in those heady days of the 1990s after his release from prison and his election.  I’ve a great panel to discuss all this.

Khehla Shubane was a political prisoner at Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela.  In later years, he was the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Peter Godwin is a former human rights lawyer in his native Zimbabwe.  He then became a distinguished correspondent and author.  Mandela wrote the forward for Godwin’s book, “Wild at Heart.”

Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism at the City University of New York and a senior political writer at the Daily Beast Newsweek.

Khehla, if I may start with you.  You pointed out that Mandela was always different even in prison.  You say everybody else wore rumpled clothes.  He took pains to iron his clothes.  He stood ramrod straight.  He had a kind of imperial bearing.

Your foundation tried to train leaders in Mandela’s wake.  Do you think the drop-off was inevitable or has South African taken a particularly bad spiral downward after Nelson Mandela?

KHEHLA SHUBANE, FORMER CEO, NELSON MANDELA FOUNDATION:  Look, I think of the country we’ve taken a knock, but I don’t think the process has totally and completely derailed.

I think it can be put back on track reasonably easily, but it’ll take a huge amount of hard work to do so.  And I think we do have the resources — the personnel resources and the willingness to put it back on track.

ZAKARIA:  Let me ask you, Khehla, since I have you, you were in jail for so many years.  What does that do to somebody?  Just, I think looking at you, looking at Mandela, what does it do to spend those many years in jail?

SHUBANE:  It teaches one a range of things.  One, patience, simply waiting.  And there’s a huge amount of waiting in prison.  It’s not just waiting for your sentence to be finished.

You can wait, for an example, for a letter that’s coming to you for a long, long time and that depends on a whole host of issues.  That’s one lesson that anyone who goes through prison learns.

The second one is to be amassed with these people who are completely and totally amassed into changing society.  I was young when I got there.  I don’t think I had the ideals and understood as well as I think I understood them at the end of my sentence.

And spending time with all of those people was helpful in that regard and it connected me to a world I would otherwise not have been connected to.  So prison was bad, but it was good as well, particularly for a young peasant like I was when I went in.

ZAKARIA:  Peter Godwin, you lived through those times, reported on them.  Part of this was — you know, the prisoners could not have known they were going to be released, people like Nelson Mandela, because so much of what happened hinged on 1989 and the collapse of communism worldwide.

The ANC was regarded at this communist front by the South African government, right?

PETER GODWIN, FORMER HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS, AUTHOR:  Absolutely.  And, in some ways, I think that, you know, we sometimes overlook South Africa’s great good fortunate at being the first African nation to become independent after the Cold War was over and that Africa stopped being this proxy battleground between communism and capitalism, Moscow and Washington.

I mean sometimes the problem I think, when one looks back at the sort of dead hand of history makes what happened looking inevitable.  But I remember covering it at the time and it certainly — none of it felt inevitable at all.

And remember Mandela himself took enormous risks when he was moved out of Robben Island and was, you know, eventually in Pollsmoor to other prisons where he started talking on his own secretly to the architects of apartheid to see if he could broker a deal.

That was an extraordinary, you know, act of self-confidence and risk-taking that began the unlocking of the whole of apartheid.

ZAKARIA:  And, Peter, you pointed out that back in the United States, we regarded Mandela as a communist.  The Reagan administration branded the ANC a terrorist group and Dick Cheney voted against a resolution to release Nelson Mandela.  So this was all happening around the world.

PETER BEINART, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM, CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AND SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, DAILY BEAST NEWSWEEK:  Right.  I think Peter Godwin’s point that South Africa’s transition was facilitated by the end of the Cold War is extremely important.

But it’s also extremely important to remember that in the 1980s a global anti-apartheid movement arose during the Cold War in which people in America and Europe said we’re not going to see South Africa in purely Cold War terms.

We’re not going to accept Ronald Reagan’s basic vision that the apartheid regime is on the side of the free world because it’s anti-Communist.

And, the ANC, because we’ve called it a communist organization, a term that no one really understood in the United States what that really meant in a South African context anyway, therefore they are on the side of unfreedom.

And so I think the willingness to look at South Africa beyond Cold War terms even when the Cold War was raging in the Reagan years was critically important to the transition in South Africa.

ZAKARIA:  When you talked with Nelson Mandela, Shubane, did you find that he — had he forgiven the West for, you know, having mostly — for the most part sided against the ANC.

SHUBANE:  I think in my conversations with him, he forgave the West, yes.  And he realized that there’s a huge amount of learnings we can pick up from Western leaders.  And, indeed, we did pick up a huge amount of learnings.

I think, for example, if you remember quite well, when he came out, he emphasized the question that monopoly kept this enterprise and so it going to be nationalized and that was the policy of the ANC and so forth and so on.

I think it is because of his contacts with major Western leaders that he was able to moderate that viewpoint.

I’m not trying to suggest that Mandela simply — as some people like to suggest, simply lavishly followed what he was told by Western leaders.  I think he succumbed to reason and that reason came from his peers largely in the West.

ZAKARIA:  Peter, what do you think explains the drop-off from Mandela to South Africa today?  What strikes me when you read about South Africa is inequality has worsened between whites and blacks substantially.

The number of people — of black children who get educated in integrated schools is something like 10 percent.  You know, you look at the leadership, Zuma versus Mandela, and you look around Africa, it doesn’t seem as though, you know, this was an upward trend.

GODWIN:  Well, that’s true.  And, you know, that discrepancy is true, but it’s also true that the standard of living of black South Africans has risen considerably since 1993, that the number of black South Africans with electricity and clean drinking water and in the education system has gone up.

I mean South Africa has always been, when you look at it, especially from the outside, a glass half-empty, glass half-full thing, that people tend to project upon South Africa a lot of the prejudices with which they enter into the situation to begin with.

But I think what’s really going to be interesting going forward now is, in a sense, a kind of custody battle for brand Mandela, who claims him as their real symbol.

And, for Mandela, symbolism was his stuff and trade.  He realized even during his life that he was this astonishingly powerful symbol.  And, in a sense, you can see there’s this — across the world, we all want to claim him.  All other countries want to claim Mandela.  He represents our better selves in that sense.

But within South Africa, you know, it’s a question of is he now a national symbol or to what extent do the ANC keep him as their symbol that he is after all — you know, the ANC is a 100-year-old organization.  To what extent can they keep him, you know, as — what happens when Mandela goes effectively to the ANC majority?

They’re still 60 percent — more than 60 percent of the vote is what they get, but they’re being challenged from essentially both left and right.  And that’s going to be very interesting once we’ve gone through the next few weeks of memorialization as to how the dust settles on that.

ZAKARIA:  Peter, 15 seconds, do you think — I’m sorry about this, but do you think Mandela’s legacy will stay alive or is this one of these moments which seems very, very profound, five years ago will have forgotten him.

BEINART:  You know, my fear talking about the brand of Mandela’s legacy is that the emphasis in the West and in the U.S. has been so much on his forgiveness that we’ve forgotten that he only forgave once he had actually overcome an unjust system.

And that the struggle in South Africa continues to create a more just society just as it did in the United States after legal segregation was abolished, but there were still massive economic inequities.

So my hope is that Mandela is not too domesticated and sanitized now in his death.

ZAKARIA:  Thank you, all of you, the two Peters, Shehla.  Wonderful panel.