Nelson Mandela: My colleagues and I did not want to speak to the apartheid rulers at all, but some of us did the type of work that brought us into contact with our oppressors. For instance, when blacks were forced to leave Johannesburg and go back to their homelands, a man would come to me and say, "Help me. I have lost my job. I have a wife and children in school, and I am now required to leave my home." As a lawyer, I would go to the top authorities and say, "Look, I'm approaching you as a human, and here is my problem. I have to rely on you." Invariably, the person would allow the man to look for a job. So I discovered even before I went to jail that apartheid was not run by people who were monolithic in their approach. Some of them didn't even believe in apartheid.
If you sit down and talk to a person, it's easy to convince him that apartheid can never save a country and will lead to the slaughtering of innocent people—including his own people. So we changed the hardened apartheid rulers into people who could work with us, because we exploited their good qualities.
Oprah: You've written that when you were a boy, all the townspeople brought their problems to the regent, who listened to each person before giving his answer.
Nelson Mandela: That principle influenced me throughout my life. I learned to have the patience to listen when people put forward their views, even if I think those views are wrong. You can't reach a just decision in a dispute unless you listen to both sides, ask questions, and view the evidence placed before you. If you don't allow people to contribute, to offer their point of view, or to criticize what has been put before them, then they can never like you. And you can never build that instrument of collective leadership.
Oprah: At one point you were offered the chance to leave prison early if you renounced violence—and you chose not to. Did you believe that violence was a solution?
Nelson Mandela: No. When I was told, "You'll be released as soon as you renounce violence," I said, "You started violence—our violence is a defense. The methods of political action that oppressed people use are determined by the oppressor." And I didn't want to leave jail under conditions. I also wouldn't allow myself to be singled out from my colleagues.
Oprah: I read that you never allowed yourself to be treated better than other prisoners because you saw yourself and the men who'd worked alongside you as a collective leadership.
Nelson Mandela: Our people outside of prison used my name to mobilize the community locally and internationally. But for me to be treated separately from my colleagues, who had contributed as much as and even more than I had, would have been a betrayal of them.
Oprah: There you all were, brothers side by side who had all gone to prison at the same time—and yet much of the world knew only your name. We never knew there was a Mandela group.
Nelson Mandela: I'm not just saying this out of humility, but some of those men were more intelligent and more determined as fighters for freedom than I was.
Next: How he finally was set free