One Man's Journey From Anti-Apartheid Protestor to U.S. Ambassador

Patrick Gaspard recalls actively working to bring down South Africa's apartheid government.
3:00 | 12/11/13

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Transcript for One Man's Journey From Anti-Apartheid Protestor to U.S. Ambassador
When President Obama and the First Lady touched down in South Africa. He was the first man to greet them the face in the United States and South Africa ambassador Patrick as far. For the past 48 hours are top diplomat here is given Nightline a rare access warning to the whirlwind preparations as the world pays tribute. To Nelson Mandela. His role to express American grief in this time of mourning and oh yeah. The monumental an unprecedented task of welcoming for US presidents and countless dignitaries -- come and -- You aren't you imagine just 25 years ago he was actively working to bring down -- government here in South Africa. Now he's the nation's official represented here you guys were both anti apartheid -- -- -- Yeah it's it's incredible to to come full circle it feels like yesterday to be. That I was standing outside of the south African embassy in Washington DC with lots of of the civil rights activists demanding. That our government. Impose sanctions on the -- part -- regime. Probably gonna -- Cuba President Obama -- this morning begins on the phone calling India's south African radio station. Remember the first times I've learned about Nelson Mandela and I and I had started to become -- In the movement myself little -- -- imagined the journey those early protests would take him. In New York the 71 year old south African leader got a taste of how millions of Americans feel about it. -- -- helped pull up Mandela's first US visit after the south African leaders released from prison in 1990. As a young staffer he navigated the rough and tumble currents of New York City politics and later. He became a trusted aide to President Obama his new gig as ambassador. Just a few months old. No but luckily the territory is familiar. Like Soweto -- Regina Mundi church and first game as a young protesters. This place was ground zero anti apartheid struggle. I get goosebumps just thinking about that that moment now because of what -- out -- doing -- -- have a lot of conflict -- there were still. Battles in the streets it was not a safe time. To be here back then this house of worship the only safe place to gather -- political meetings were banned in most public places. In 1976. It was a refuge during the student uprisings here. Appreciates the youngsters -- One of reports whatever he suffered. Machine gun went out there and with the -- of the machine guns and landed on the altar cracked. I'm program we'll be altered. On this day. They're here to remember the man known by his tribal. Here. Don't let up and -- -- he didn't what you went to prison. The ambassador and his wife lead me to Mandela's house now a museum GC. That you Mandela film a long walk to freedom. There any scenes where be a part time please just driving by -- an -- just -- this -- -- bullets just. Intimidated and continue to send a message that we're watching -- and their babies -- babies and there it. Was here -- -- 23 years ago we saw some of the first images of Nelson Mandela. Finally free. I love the sensation of just waiting to see what he looked like Natalie -- question outside Mandela's house that combination of street party demonstration and protest. A reminder that scars run deep. Because there are still dire places in South Africa like at Rich Hill just a short drive from the capital and in the shadow of where Mandela will allay. No apartheid years but also no clean water no trash -- no proper power. -- have to -- despite the man. Squatters like Archibald wife and five children. Still waiting after fifteen. Years for government home of the money that's supposed to be for you guys for your -- -- They're keeping that keep -- The fear now that Mandela's loss leaves -- one left to fight for them. Back at the US embassy just hours to go before the memorial -- -- -- wheels up. Before he -- guess part still the official US -- here time for a quick visit to Pretoria -- union buildings. To check on logistics where -- will lie in state. Beacon -- filled the bears and the casket will lay on this very spot will be where Mandela took the presidential O twenty years ago that's going to be like nothing that's been seen here since. His inauguration. We thought. Probably -- -- on folklore. And you're about to -- actors are gonna rival emotion. -- today and finally meeting you here. Think back it is official residence good -- ambassador knowledge is the tremendous weight of the hours and days ahead. Let's see that I think the biggest judges are president. Obama President Clinton President Bush President Carter. Behind the scenes aides are still working the phones with last minute details. Why is it important for young Americans. Part tied to long time ago. -- learn about this you know ports has actually knocked out long ago Terry I love my country that would impede their -- -- -- About our higher education is the kind of amnesia that we sometimes have about. Incredibly important event by may two teenagers sixteen year old boy thirteen year old girl from -- look at me like comfortable -- -- talk about the days when we used to get arrested in front of the US embassy in them out to Robben Island. And I took them two. -- Mandela house and their eyes were wide open. When they were in that little house and realize that -- -- -- was under siege in that location every single day. Yesterday. It really hit me for the first time I cut -- little emotional how -- fortunate I am that I that I get to. Listed on the front porch of history. And then I will always made sure. -- -- He makes me wanna be a better man and inspiring presidents. Every day. Banks have a lot of emotion about being here right now and to supercharged. The opportunity you know that's possible. For Nightline I'm Terry Moran in Pretoria south --

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

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