Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013)
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013)

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader. Mandela studied law before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg where he became involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics, joining the African national Congress (ANC) in 1943.

After the National Party’s white-only government established the apartheid regime, Mandela and the ANC decided to fight and overthrow it. Mandela was appointed President of the ANC’s Transvaal branch and became a prominent figure in the organization. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities until he finally was imprisoned in 1962 for treason and conspiracy against the government and was sentenced to life in prison, where he became a symbol for the oppressed in South Africa who were fighting for their rights.

Apartheid signs in English and Afrikaans
Apartheid sign in English and Afrikaans

Mandela ended up serving 27 years in prison, but after growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk later led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led his party to victory and became president.

Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 as its first black president of South Africa, and the first president to be elected in a fully representative election. Nelson Mandela’s government focused on eliminating the Apartheid government in the country. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993.

Mandela and Evelyn getting married
Mandela and Evelyn getting married

Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life: some denounced him as a communist terrorist and others criticized him for negotiating and trying to reconcile with apartheid’s supporters. However, he ended up gaining international acclaim for his activism, becoming an icon of democracy and social justice. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is considered the “Father of the Nation“.

Top 50 Best Quotes from Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” ― Nelson Mandela

Mandela's prison cell
Mandela’s prison cell

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” ― Nelson Mandela

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” ― Nelson Mandela

“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.” ― Nelson Mandela

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” ― Nelson Mandela

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.” ― Nelson Mandela

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” ― Nelson Mandela

Free Mandela Protests
Free Mandela Protests

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” ― Nelson Mandela

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” ― Nelson Mandela

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ― Nelson Mandela

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, and humility.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” ― Nelson Mandela

“ As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ― Nelson Mandela

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela in 2000
Nelson Mandela in 2000

“I am the captain of my soul.” ― Nelson Mandela

“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up” ― Nelson Mandela

“Where you stand depends on where you sit.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Appearances matter — and remember to smile.” ― Nelson Mandela

“One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.” ― Nelson Mandela

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Courage is not the absence of fear — it s inspiring others to move beyond it.” ― Nelson Mandela

“A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ― Nelson Mandela

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” ― Nelson Mandela

Frederick de Clerk and Mandela
Frederick de Clerk and Mandela

“You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” ― Nelson Mandela

“One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.” ― Nelson Mandela

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“Nothing is black or white.” ― Nelson Mandela

“In my country we go to prison first and then become President. ” ― Nelson Mandela

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.” 
― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiograpy of Nelson Mandela with Connections

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” ― Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela and George W. Bush at the Oval Office in 2005
Nelson Mandela and George W. Bush at the Oval Office in 2005

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires” ― Nelson Mandela

“It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.” ― Nelson Mandela

“I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” ― Nelson Mandela

“Quitting is leading too.” ― Nelson Mandela

“It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” ― Nelson Mandela

“Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.” ― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

“There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status.” ― Nelson Mandela, Conversations With Myself

“When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.” ― Nelson Mandela


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