A Look Back: 'Nightline's' Historic Nelson Mandela Interview

Anchor Ted Koppel recalls first interview after anti-apartheid leader's release from Robben Island.
3:00 | 12/09/13

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Transcript for A Look Back: 'Nightline's' Historic Nelson Mandela Interview
In the epic that is the story of Nelson Mandela and South Africa a small but important chapter. Happened to been played by an American news program. On -- February afternoon in 1990 TV stations everywhere across the globe really everywhere held -- single lives totally uninteresting shot on and off for close to an hour. Because everyone was waiting finally to see this this distant figure. Nelson Mandela a man who would not been photographed literally in almost three decades finally walking freed from prison. And waiting there to interview him Ted Koppel -- told me so was everybody else waiting to interview Mandela only none of them had an appointment. And every one had rented. A house. Across the street from we're not doing was wrong and so what are. And there we were worth where their binoculars. You know sitting that are prone figure -- he's here you can isn't here in which one services can be invited to come over there and do and -- rather it was. Contract -- program will then be man who was their first was -- -- second. Since -- ABC news Nightline. Reporting from South Africa. Second -- tonight we have only one guest Nelson Mandela. But first on -- to come to Mandela on that night's broadcast with an opening question that -- not to politics or to race or to the future but to sport. He was surprised by the fire with terrorism and yes saws and muscle -- to Hawaii to neutral ground and -- to do it. Sort of didn't you went right to the boxing question do -- Well -- your plan wanted to hit and the question he really wasn't expect. Did you ever think of turning pro turning professional. But you're good you're good books that. Well. I do not -- that is for others to say it. I had just this -- Nelson Mandela was never an easy man to loosen up. It's long enough for drove a little bit of a monastery wouldn't hurt. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- And did Mandela -- and in that interview a little not really. Even talking basics like the prison food. We move. On move it off -- good morning. It is for lunch and he brought what is -- explanatory I don't know wouldn't send millions -- -- And -- like apart like to -- yes and 52. Let it cool -- -- in prison. -- that -- those days. The preparation of the fourteen left and that it must it is. Even in that Mandela maintained a certain rectitude and language gesture and posture that set him at a distance your time with him he -- was. It was rather formal. Nelson Mandela was not who was not someone who was going to be in my book. And -- was and let me be. His -- and -- Mandela in subsequent years. Rarely perhaps never said no. Quintet invited him to be on Nightline and that willingness to at a certain stems from a single history making week of television -- Nightline produced in South Africa in the 1980s. South Africa. Is change change so we will only lead to producers of programs -- will only come to -- for Africa if members of the white government agreeing. To engage and on the -- -- youth which had never happened on their own television ever happen on the -- took. If you will agree to engage in dialogue where is likely troops. So we actually had occasion -- -- South Africa and foreign minister. -- -- Appeared line -- on Taylor. In the United States. Wears -- bishop Desmond Tutu. And it was an extraordinary moment. If you think it is -- because it. -- -- -- I would apartment these -- And degradation. And dehumanizing or wrecked people. That almost there's a part. It was we broadcast. The next. Himself from Africa along the -- BC yourself for African broadcasting company. And the impact which Hugh. Absolutely movements. And it all happened remember while Mandela was at that point in his 23 year of imprisonment. Although Ted says in an important way. Until it was fair Mandela risen in every. Exchange we could not have -- war we did it concern for Africa had it not been for Mandela in what way. In the sense that men -- -- exerted such moral suasion. But those shows also made a connection. Both the north Manila was -- -- because of the week that you didn't -- isn't -- the reason I mean he heard about the he who worked Rebecca Ted had a moment with Mandela years later during a town meeting held in the United States -- interrupted him. And I was going to -- -- something else. And then he. I thought was going to jump in and so there's something so -- -- And -- to something like I don't know if fire -- -- fuel and. And we usually for the American for. At the time. Involved you know here here's the -- anchors get nipped it right in the chops from the man himself. It was a great moment for him for them that's great for me who makes him that was a great story -- No they were not buddies but for maybe a brief moment they were both. Part of the story something journalists are supposed to try not to be. But sometimes. It cannot be -- we don't -- the opportunities -- often. To really make a difference. I think -- programs. In the South -- need to.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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