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Nelson Mandela Quotes

  1. A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
  2. A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.
  3. Africans require, want, the franchise on the basis of one man one vote. They want political independence.
  4. After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
  5. After one has been in prison, it is the small things that one appreciates: being able to take a walk whenever one wants, going into a shop and buying a newspaper, speaking or choosing to remain silent. The simple act of being able to control one’s person.
  6. Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.
  7. Apart from life, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla.
  8. As an attorney, I could be rather flamboyant in court. I did not act as though I were a black man in a white man’s court, but as if everyone else – white and black – was a guest in my court. When trying a case, I often made sweeping gestures and used high-flown language.
  9. As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.
  10. At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
  11. Before I went to jail, I was active in politics as a member of South Africa’s leading organization – and I was generally busy from 7 A.M. until midnight. I never had time to sit and think.
  12. By ancestry, I was born to rule.
  13. Communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of Communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements.
  14. Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.
  15. Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what they had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment?
  16. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
  17. Especially for those of us who lived in single cells, you had the time to sit down and think, and we discovered that sitting down just to think is one of the best ways of keeping yourself fresh and able, to be able to address the problems facing you, and you had the opportunity, also, of examining your past.
  18. Even if you have a terminal disease, you don’t have to sit down and mope. Enjoy life and challenge the illness that you have.
  19. 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.
  20. Forget the past.
  21. From the beginning, Mandela and Tambo was besieged with clients. We were not the only African lawyers in South Africa, but we were the only firm of African lawyers. For Africans, we were the firm of first choice and last resort.
  22. Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS.
  23. I am confident that nobody… will accuse me of selfishness if I ask to spend time, while I am still in good health, with my family, my friends and also with myself.
  24. I came across few whites as a boy at Qunu. The local magistrate, of course, was white, as was the nearest shopkeeper. Occasionally, white travelers or policemen passed through our area. These whites appeared as grand as gods to me, and I was aware that they were to be treated with a mixture of fear and respect.
  25. I can’t pretend that I’m brave and that I can beat the whole world.
  26. I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders.
  27. I cannot say for certain if there is such a thing as love at first sight, but I do know that the moment I first glimpsed Winnie Nomzamo, I knew that I wanted to have her as my wife.
  28. I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.
  29. I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.
  30. I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.
  31. I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses.
  32. I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot.
  33. I have been influenced in my thinking by both west and east.
  34. 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.
  35. I have retired, but if there’s anything that would kill me it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do.
  36. 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.
  37. I made a mistake by being ejected from the presidency. Next time, I will choose a Cabinet which will allow me to be life President.
  38. I realized quickly what Mandela and Tambo meant to ordinary Africans. It was a place where they could come and find a sympathetic ear and a competent ally, a place where they would not be either turned away or cheated, a place where they might actually feel proud to be represented by men of their own skin color.
  39. I really wanted to retire and rest and spend more time with my children, my grandchildren and of course with my wife.
  40. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism.
  41. I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.
  42. I started to make a study of the art of war and revolution and, whilst abroad, underwent a course in military training. If there was to be guerrilla warfare, I wanted to be able to stand and fight with my people and to share the hazards of war with them.
  43. I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.
  44. I was first imprisoned in Pretoria, and then, thereafter, I was taken to Robben Island. I stayed there for a couple of weeks. I was taken back to Pretoria when I was charged in the Rivonia trial, when I was then sent to Robben Island for life.
  45. I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.
  46. I will not leave South Africa, nor will I surrender. Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won. The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days.
  47. I would wear the blue overalls of the fieldworker and often wore round, rimless glasses known as Mazzawati teaglasses. I had a car, and I wore a chauffeur’s cap with my overalls. The pose of chauffeur was convenient because I could travel under the pretext of driving my master’s car.
  48. If the United States of America or Britain is having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.
  49. If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
  50. If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.
  51. If you are poor, you are not likely to live long.
  52. 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.
  53. If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
  54. In countries where innocent people are dying, the leaders are following their blood rather than their brains.
  55. In my country we go to prison first and then become President.
  56. In the 1940s, traveling for an African was a complicated process. All Africans over the age of sixteen were compelled to carry ‘Native passes’ issued by the Native Affairs Department and were required to show that pass to any white policeman, civil servant, or employer. Failure to do so could mean arrest, trial, a jail sentence or fine.
  57. Intervention only works when the people concerned seem to be keen for peace.
  58. It always seems impossible until its done.
  59. It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
  60. It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.
  61. Leaders in all spheres who are living with HIV should be encouraged, not coerced, to lead by example and disclose their HIV status.
  62. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.
  63. Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.
  64. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
  65. Let us give publicity to H.I.V./AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and say somebody has died because of H.I.V./AIDS, and people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.
  66. Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.
  67. My son has died of AIDS.
  68. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.
  69. No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.
  70. Nonviolence is a good policy when the conditions permit.
  71. On the first day of school, my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name and said that from thenceforth that was the name we would answer to in school. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education.
  72. Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.
  73. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul, and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.
  74. Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.
  75. Our single most important challenge is therefore to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual.
  76. People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.
  77. Prison life, fortunately, I spent a lot of years, about 18 years with other prisoners, and, as I say, they enriched your soul.
  78. Running taught me valuable lessons. In cross-country competition, training counted more than intrinsic ability, and I could compensate for a lack of natural aptitude with diligence and discipline. I applied this in everything I did.
  79. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality.
  80. Sometimes, I feel like one who is on the sidelines, who has missed life itself.
  81. The United States has made serious mistakes in the conduct of its foreign affairs, which have had unfortunate repercussions long after the decisions were taken.
  82. The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture, British institutions, were automatically assumed to be superior. There was no such thing as African culture.
  83. The names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle.
  84. The titanic effort that has brought liberation to South Africa, and ensured the total liberation of Africa, constitutes an act of redemption for the black people of the world.
  85. There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty.
  86. There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.
  87. There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions but whose contribution towards the development of society has been enormous.
  88. There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.
  89. There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
  90. 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.
  91. 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.
  92. There is no such thing as part freedom.
  93. There is nothing I fear more than waking up without a program that will help me bring a little happiness to those with no resources, those who are poor, illiterate, and ridden with terminal disease.
  94. There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
  95. To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.
  96. Unlike some politicians, I can admit to a mistake.
  97. We can’t afford to be killing one another.
  98. We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
  99. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.
  100. Whatever position I occupied, it was the result of colleagues – of my comrades in the movement – who had decided in their wisdom to use me for the purpose of focusing the attention of the country and the international community on me.
  101. When I came to Johannesburg from the countryside, I knew nobody, but many strangers were very kind to me. I then was dragged into politics, and then, subsequently, I became a lawyer.
  102. When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.
  103. Where globalization means, as it so often does, that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, we have a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom.
  104. Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they will face. So it’s very important to give children education and explain that they should play a role for their country.
  105. You know, you can only lead them from behind.

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