Sunday Spotlight: Koppel and Mandela

"This Week" looks back at Ted Koppel's historic interview with Nelson Mandela, days after his release from prison in Feb. 1990.
3:00 | 12/08/13

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Transcript for Sunday Spotlight: Koppel and Mandela
From abc news, here is david brinkley. And here's a live picture from the town square in capetown, south africa. Nelson mandela, out of prison for only a few hours, has arrived here to find a huge crowd. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people. That was the moment back in 1990, when nelson mandela left robben island a free man. Just four days later, he sat down with ted koppel to reflect on the 27 years behind bars and the road ahead. Wanted to start somewhere else, with buster douglas' fight with mike tyson. I think the last top nick the world that people expect to hear nelson mandela talking about, boking. Yes. You were surprised by the fight the other night with tyson? Yes, I was very much surprised. I took it for granted he would win. So did he. Yes. Did you ever think of turning pro? Turning professional? No, I never did. But you were a good boxer? I do not know. That is for others to say. When you were in prison, did you keep up? Did you keep up boxing at all? Uh, no. Exercises. Kipping -- skipping. And weight lifting. Was it difficult to keep in shape? They didn't give you very good food, certainly not in the beginning? It was not difficult. Because the diet that they gave us, although it was bad, and sometimes very unpalatable. They gave you the basics of nutritious food, like fish. Meat. And vegetables. And sometimes fruits. During the fruit season. There were also, from what i understand, differences in terms of the way that people of different races in the prison were treated. Yes. And there was an effort, and I don't know if you initiated it or if someone else did, to create as much equity among th prisoners as possible. Tell me about that, would you? That was one of our initial thoughts. Colored and indians received better food than ourselves. The africans had the poorest diet, as you can imagine. In fact, we had mill pop for the morning. For lunch. And for -- what is hat? Can you describe that? It's a millet, ground and cooked. Like a porridge? Yes. To someone who has no idea what robben island is like, do you remember the first day or the first night? Oh, yes. Although I'm very reluctant to talk about that, because I was directly involved. And we had a clash with the warders between the searchers from cape town and across the -- across the robben island. They wanted us to hush. And -- they lined us up, there were four or five. I was -- at the back with another comrade. And there were two others infirmed. And they were very harsh. And then I whispered to my colleagues, that, look, we must fight right from the beginning. They must know what type of men we are right from the beginning. And we must not give the impression that they can issue instructions as to which conflict with our principles. If they're carrying out the regulations, but where they overstep the limit, we must fight and resist. Were you ever put in isolation? Oh, yes, several times. How is isolation? Isolation was very difficult. Especially because they starve you for some days. And -- I went to isolation several times. Although I was sent to isolation, with the order that i should forfeit some meals, I was able to get meals. Because the warders did not want to conform to the regulations. And who did everything to make it possible for us in order to survive. One of those warders. I forget his name. You will know immediately, was, in effect, your jailer for 27 years. Oh, yes. Do you remember his name? Yes. That was one known as gregory. Gregory. Yes. He became a close friend of yours? Oh, no, he is a first-class gentleman, in every respect. He never raises his voice. He's patient. He's very calm. I became very friendly with, in fact, when I left prison, i think he was on the point of breaking down, because we were now closing a friendship. Under those circumstances, which had lasted for so long. What about you? Well, I did feel not happy about leaving him behind. And -- but there was nothing else I could do. Will you stay in touch with him? Yes. Yes, sir. One of the most extraordinary things about your imprisonment and many of the others is that you were not isolated, everyone at the times when they wanted to keep you isolated. You still knew what was going on in the outside world. How? Well, it's very difficult in prison to not isolate prisoners. Especially political prisoners. Because where there are human beings, and where men fight back for their rights and for their dignity, there will immediately be people who will admire you. And that admiration will be shown by specific acts. Which shows that people think that your state is correct. The first isolation, punishment, which I got was when I was given a newspaper by a warder. He had been doing that for some time. One day, the authorities must have got a tip and they came to my cell and raided the cell for the paper. And they sent me to isolation for that. The punishment. Most people would look at the last 27 years of your life or at the life of someone who has spent the last 27 years in prison and say to themselves, what a waste. What about you? That is true. To spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy. And -- I regret, you know, those years that I have wasted in prison. But -- there are very positive aspects, too. Because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes. I also had the opportunity of reading very widely and especially biographies. And I could see what men sometimes from very humble beginnings were able to lift themselves with their boot strings and become international figures and men who were useful to society in their own community and to the world. So few get as high as nelson

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

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