The Life of Nelson Mandela: South African Peace Leader Remembered as Fighter

The voice of his people, Mandela struggled over South Africa's legacy of racial apartheid.
3:00 | 12/05/13

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Transcript for The Life of Nelson Mandela: South African Peace Leader Remembered as Fighter
edition of "world news beginning the breaking news, a titan has died, nelson mandela, the man who taught the modern world you can transform anger into hope. He was 95 and his death wasn't a surprise but his life continues to astonish us in living the possibility of a better world. He spent 27 years in prison for his belief in freedom, equality and emerged with a message of generosity toward his 0 pressers. We have reaction from around the world tonight. First robin roberts who has traveled to south africa several times takes a look back at his extraordinary life and inconquerable spirit. Reporter: Nelson mandela, a leader who inspired a nation to hope. Both black and white will be able to walk together, a grateful nation at peace with itself and the world. Reporter: And believe in a better future. His tribal name given at birth means troublemaker, but on the first day of school, his teacher gave him a new name. You must have a christian name. So I said, no, I don't have one. She says you are from today going to be nelson. Reporter: He was a boxer who became a lawyer and a leading voice in the african national congress, the anc. Struggling to end the inequality of apartheid, white ruled south africa's policy of racial segregation. But in 1960 after police shot and killed 49 protestors, the anc which had always been nonviolent created a military wing under mandela's command. There are many people who feel that it's useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against the government. Reporter: The regime determined to maintain white rule saw the inspiring young revolutionary as a threat. Our stre is truly national. It is a struggle for the right to live. Reporter: Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 and two years later sentenced to life in prison, accused of working to overthrow the government. In court, on trial for his life he said this. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society. It is an ideal for which I hope to live and to see realized, but my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Reporter: Four miles off the coast of cape town south africa on robben island, he spent most of his years cut off from the world but not forgotten. To spend 27 years in the prime of your life is a tragedy and I regret in all those years that I have wasted in prison. Mr. Nelson mandela will be released from the prison. There is mr. Nelson mandela, a free man taking his first steps into a new south africa. Reporter: Released at the age of 72, remained vigilant that his country and freedoms rested in the hands of the people. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant. Reporter: And for the people of south africa, mandela's release ushered in a new era of hope and the end of apartheid. Today the majority of south africa, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. Reporter: In 1994 south african's cast their ballot in the first democratic election. This morning applause for the first black voter in history. Reporter: Mandela became the country's president, the first elected by all its people. We are all south africans. We have had a good fight, but now this is a time to heal the old wounds and to build a new south africa. Reporter: After ruling for five years, nelson mandela passed the torch to the next generation and became an elder statesman to the world, a fighter, a visionary, the voice of his people and a moral compass for us all. You were there so many times, talked to his family members. Several times, the first time ten years ago with my family. We actually went to robben island and stood in his cell and we couldn't imagine what it felt like. On one of my trips talking to his second wife winnie in their home and talking with such passion about the early years and the struggle against apartheid and saying even then he had a bold vision and when i spoke to grass sa and I asked him what is your husband's legacy going to be and she said a visionary and the quality of his leadership. The quality of it. I remember his saying once that there is nothing more powerful than the phrase it is not right. And he wanted to right the wrongs and give each of us the feeling that we could do that, too. That's so powerful. That's right. In our lives, not just in the political world. Right. Thanks so much, robin. It's great that you are here with us tonight. We want to go to south africa right now where not long ago president zuma, the president of the country with a simple sentence broke the news to his countrymen. Our nation has lost its greatest son.

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

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