In His Own Words

12.05.13

Nelson Mandela’s Most Inspiring Quotes

The former South African president’s struggle to overturn apartheid was an inspiration to many around the world. Here are some of the firebrand’s most memorable words.

Before his death, Nelson Mandela had already become a larger than life figure for his work ending apartheid in South Africa.  But the legend often overshadowed the real Madiba; he was simply a guy who saw inequality in his world and worked to make it right. Looking back at over five decades of his speeches and writings, we find a man who struggled to balance his duty to his family with his fight for his country, his moral drive to do what’s right with his personal pride. While alive, he inspired people through his speeches and letters, particularly those he wrote during his 18-year imprisonment on Robben Island. Here’s a selection of his most inspiring quotes:

“If I had my time over I would do the same again, so would any man who dares call himself a man.” (After being convicted to five years hard labor, November 1962)

"I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.” (Statement during trial, 1962)

“I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.”  (At the opening of his trial, April 20, 1964)

“Social equality is the only basis of human happiness.”  (A letter written on August 1, 1970)

“Difficulties break some men but make others.” (From a letter to wife, Winnie Mandela, from Robben Island, February 1975)

“I came to accept that I have no right whatsoever to judge others in terms of my own customs.” (From his unpublished autobiographical manuscript, 1975)

"Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.” (Speech to European Parliament, 1990)

“Without democracy there cannot be peace.” (South Africa, May 9, 1992)

“We are fighting for a society where people will cease thinking in terms of colour.” (March 8, 1993)

 “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”  (Interview for Mandela, 1994)

"Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”  (December 16, 1995)

"I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended." (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

Video screenshot

Facts and figures from Nelson Mandela’s life, set to the trailer from ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.’

"Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” (Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, April 25, 1998)

“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”  (South Africa, July 14, 2000)

“When people are determined they can overcome anything.” (Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 14, 2006)