From Anti-Apartheid Protestor to US Ambassador: One Man's Journey

U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard reflects on honoring Nelson Mandela's work.
3:00 | 12/11/13

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Transcript for From Anti-Apartheid Protestor to US Ambassador: One Man's Journey
We moved -- -- South Africa where it is Wednesday morning. The body of Nelson Mandela has just been carried in a -- procession to the seat of the south African government in Pretoria. To lie in state. ABC's chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran is there along the -- today. Good morning Cynthia from South Africa and what a moment -- what's. -- few minutes ago as you said the car carrying the body of Nelson Mandela recessed down this street. To the place where he will lie in state for the next several days and he can -- -- far as the eye can see a police honor guard and think about that. The south African police once pursued and persecuted Nelson Mandela now they stand at attention. In his honor but he makes his final journey and it's been like that the past couple of extraordinary day extraordinary for Americans as well. For US president attended that memorial service and that's never happened before there was one American right at the center of it. And we spent the -- past couple of whirlwind days -- When President Obama and the First Lady touched down in South Africa. He was the first man to greet them the face of the United States and South Africa ambassador Patrick as far. For the past 48 hours are top diplomat here is given Nightline rare access warning to the whirlwind preparations as the world pays tribute. To Nelson Mandela. His -- 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 in -- 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 gifted it'd be. That I was standing outside of south African embassy in Washington DC with lots of of the civil rights activists demanding that our government. Impose sanctions on the a part -- regime. Probably gonna ask Cuba President Obama arriving -- this morning begins on the phone calling -- south African radio station. Remember the first times I've learned. About Nelson Mandela and I and I have started to -- become captives in the -- Myself little could have 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 you know but luckily the territory is familiar. Like Soweto -- Regina Mundi church. He first came as a young protesters. This place was ground zero in the anti apartheid struggle I get goosebumps just thinking about that that moment now because of what -- out -- doing that. This place have a lot of conflicts are there were still. Battles in the streets -- it was not a safe side. To be here back then this house of worship the only safe place to -- -- political meetings were banned in most public places. In 1976. It was a refuge during the student uprisings here. -- appreciate that yeah. One of reports that there -- police officers to use machine gun went up there and look at -- the machine guns laying it down the -- -- We'll be altered. There -- here to remember the man known by his tribal. -- -- let up on their legs to he didn't what you went to prison. The ambassador and his wife lead -- to Mandela's house now a museum PC. The new Mandela film -- long walk to freedom. Are there any scenes where they're part time please just driving by night an ambulance just -- this moment bullets just. Intimidated and continue to send a message that there are lots of -- in their babies are babies and -- it. Was here -- -- 23 years ago we saw some of the first images of Nelson Mandela. Finally free. I love the sensation of just wait and see what he looked like -- had questioned 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 -- Mandela will allay. No apartheid years but also no clean water no trash pick -- no proper power. They have to sits -- the man. Squatters like Archibald wife and five children still waiting after fifteen years. For -- government home. The money that supposed to be for you guys for your -- -- They're keeping that keep -- The fear now that Mandela's loss leaves no one left to fight for -- them. Back at the US embassy just hours to go before the memorial obviously wheels up. Before he -- guess part is still the official US -- here time for a quick visit to Pretoria -- union buildings. To check on logistics where -- will lie in state they can -- either filled the bears fan. 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 they thought. Product powerful -- folklore heck -- about it because doctors are gonna rival emotion. Kabul today and finally meeting you here. Think back it is official residence good -- from the ambassador knowledge is the tremendous weight of the hours and days ahead. I would 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 -- important for young Americans. Part tied to long time ago. To learn about this you know ports has actually knocked out long ago Terry I love my country do when things are frustrates me. About our education is the kind of amnesia that we sometimes have about incredibly important to events -- -- teenager sixteen year old boy thirteen year old girl conveyed look at me like -- -- -- -- -- -- talk about the days when we used to get arrested in front of the US embassy. It's of 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 that -- -- was under siege and that location every single day. Yesterday. It really hit me for the first time I got to little emotional how -- fortunate I am that I had to get to. Sit on the front porch of history. And then I will always made sure. -- -- -- You wanna be a better. Inspiring presidents. Every day. Have a lot of emotion about being here right now and just supercharged. The opportunity -- -- -- 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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