Transcript for The Private Life of Nelson Mandela
In so many of the photos of mandela we saw tonight he's behind a podium inspiring a crowd or marching and meeting world leaders. What was he like behind the closed doors of his home with his family? Well, we spoke to many of them this past year. And came away with a portrait of a man very different than what you might imagine. Reporter: A life destined for such spectacular greatness began humbly. A small village in the south african territory known as the transkei. It's hard to imagine nowadays what is like to grow up the way he did that wasn't 1918 by western standards that was 1760 by western standards. There was no light. No electricity. No running water. Reporter: He would attend boarding school and eventually college. But when his tribal father set up an arranged marriage, mandela fled to johannesburg and a very different life. MANDELA, IN THE 50's, WHEN HE Was a young lawyer in johannesburg, he was really a man about town. He drove a fancy american car, he had a first marriage and three children. I was -- when, uh, my mom, my mom has very fond memories of my father. Uh, that my father was, uh, was a very hands-on husband. Reporter: Makaziwe mandela is nelson mandela's daughter from his first marriage. My father would come home from work and say to, to her, "to -- today, don't worry about cooking, washing dishes, or taking care of the children. Tonight it's my turn." Reporter: But as mandela morphed into a political leader, that family became the first casualty of the cause. All of us, uh, longed to have those moments, you know, where you can sit on a couch, maybe rest your head on your father. Uh, we didn't have those moments. Reporter: Mandela's first marriage ended in divorce when makaziwe was just four years old, but soon afhe would find a true soul mate. Winnie. This was one of the great african love stories of all time from the moment he meets her, he just thinks she is the most glorious girl. They fell unbelievably in love but almost from the get go he was having to go underground. They managed to make two beautiful daughters in two years before he was then arrested and put on trial and then sent to prison for life. At the wedding, he made a toast and said, my daughter, you're marrying a jailbird." And they all laughed about it, but of course he was in prison a couple of years later. Reporter: They would not be allowed contact with him for 8 years. Rarely visits after that. Winnie becomes mandela's voice. The personification of him and his movement. And of course, becomes just as much a target of authorities. He often said to me that winnie had it tougher than he did. Mandela, in all his 27 years in prison, spent one night in solitary confinement. Winnie spent a year in solitary confinement. All of the time having to look after their two daughters. Reporter: Those girls were named zenanie and zindzi. Prisoners were not allowed to see children under 16, and given that winnie mandela's children were both very little girls when he went to jail, that meant he had no contact with them for a very long time. Reporter: But his older daughter was able to visit her father in prison -- and uh, I expected to hug my dad and everything else. I couldn't. It was a glass window, we kissed on the glass on the window, we spoke through a telephone. I think one of his deepest regrets is his failure as a husband, as a father, as a family man because of all those years in prison. I mean, he's a very domestic fellow. He loves children. Reporter: While in jail mandela would try to show that love the only way he could. And he made a tremendous effort to communicate with his children through the letters. Every birthday you would get a letter from dad, or you would get a card, a beautiful card. And every letter, every card would say, I love you. Reporter: So many years pass, mandela is finally released, and once again faces a battle -- his role as a leader in the country and e world versus his private life. The marriage with winnie would not survive. The world naturally wanted these two bigger than life people to come together when he came out of prison, and to live happily ever after. I think it was probably in real terms, a very hard thing to ask. Reporter: Though winnie and nelson divorce, mandela is still able to forge a family life, but connecting with his three surviving children as well as his 18 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren remained a challe when he first came out of prison, we thought that we'd have a piece of our grandfather, but it didn't happen that way. Tukwini mandela is one of those grandchildren. And I remember coming home once after my visit with my grandfather, and saying, "mom, you know, sometimes talking to granddaddy is really difficult." Uh, and my mom said, "tukwini, you have to understand that your grandfather has been in prison for 27 years, you know. He -- he's learning to, to reconnect." Reporter: Keweku mandela amuah met his grandfather for the first time when he was just 4 years old. As much as being a grandfather was foreign to him, being a nice person was not. And so that's all he really tried to do. Meeting each one of his grandchildren was like building a new friendship with a stranger the secret to engaging with my grandfather was to get him to tell you stories about, you know, when he was younger, to get him to tell you stories about his father. Because he's a very good mimicker. Reporter: Earlier this year when we spoke with tukwini and makaziwe, they told us several little known details about one of the worlds most famous men, an even more surprising trait they recalled at that time? He likes to gossip, my grandfather. You'll be sitting with him in the living room, and he'll say, "do you know that that one got in trouble for such and such, we were discussing it at the dinner table." It's like, "granddad, you can't keep secrets." Reporter: His family says though mandela spent much of his life in the spotlight he often deflected attention to others. A simple pleasure mandela enjoyed during thosecious days at home, reading alone in peace. Sometimes you go and see him in -- and he's reading his newspapers. He lets his newspapers down, "how are you, darling? How's school? How's work? How's everything?" "Great, great." Newspapers up. you know you've been dismissed. Those closest to mandela say he had a great sense of humor. And kweku mandela told us when we spoke last year, that's a big part of the life lesson he took from his grandpa. Think you know, he's taught me that uh you have to be tolerant and I think the main thing is to smile you know? He's got a great smile, so I try to emulate that when I can!
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.