Colin Powell remembers 'the real Nelson Mandela'

  • 6 December 2013
Media captionPowell: I was "deeply moved" by Mandela

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell shared his memories of Nelson Mandela with the BBC on Friday.

"He was always a presence in my life and my early years in public service," Mr Powell said. "He was something of a contemporary with Martin Luther King Jr., and I think the parallels are rather striking and obvious: Both of them believed in something and were willing to fight and die for that something."

Mr Powell said that he saw the "real Nelson Mandela" while attending the South African's inauguration in May 1994. "It was one of the most deeply moving moments in my experience as a diplomat and a soldier."

"In person he was the most humble, gentle man, and he had the most gentle smile," Mr Powell noted. "His eyes twinkled."

Mr Powell said that Mr Mandela was a guide to him when he became the first black US secretary of state:

What I liked telling people was I was the first secretary of state who happened to be black, and I put that descriptor behind the title. We have to get beyond these labels depending upon your gender or your colour or your background. I'm proud of being black, and I'm proud of being an immigrant of British subjects, but at the same time I want to be seen as an American. And I think Nelson Mandela was able to create that kind of an image within South Africa. We are not black South Africans or white South Africans, we are South Africans who happen to be black or white. We are one family, one nation, one people.