Nelson Mandela Quotes 1–30 of 153 Quotes

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country's first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. He was the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk in 1993.

Below are 30 of 153 sourced Nelson Mandela quotes. Sources and related information appear under each quote. Use the 'Cite this quote' link to get citation references.

“There are thousands of people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence — against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people. And I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences at this day at home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Interview (1961)

“Ethiopia has always held a special place in my own imagination and the prospect of visiting attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: On a 1961 conference held in Ethiopia, as quoted in Rivonia Unmasked (1965) by Strydom Lautz, p. 108; also in ‪Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela : An Ecological Study‬ (2002), by J. C. Buthelezi, p. 172

“In its proper meaning equality before the law means the right to participate in the making of the laws by which one is governed, a constitution which guarantees democratic rights to all sections of the population, the right to approach the court for protection or relief in the case of the violation of rights guaranteed in the constitution, and the right to take part in the administration of justice as judges, magistrates, attorneys-general, law advisers and similar positions. In the absence of these safeguards the phrase 'equality before the law', in so far as it is intended to apply to us, is meaningless and misleading. All the rights and privileges to which I have referred are monopolized by whites, and we enjoy none of them. The white man makes all the laws, he drags us before his courts and accuses us, and he sits in judgement over us.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, First court statement (1962):
Statement on charges of inciting persons to strike illegally, and of leaving the country without a valid passport.)

“It is fit and proper to raise the question sharply, what is this rigid color-bar in the administration of justice? Why is it that in this courtroom I face a white magistrate, am confronted by a white prosecutor, and escorted into the dock by a white orderly? Can anyone honestly and seriously suggest that in this type of atmosphere the scales of justice are evenly balanced? Why is it that no African in the history of this country has ever had the honor of being tried by his own kith and kin, by his own flesh and blood? I will tell Your Worship why: the real purpose of this rigid color-bar is to ensure that the justice dispensed by the courts should conform to the policy of the country, however much that policy might be in conflict with the norms of justice accepted in judiciaries throughout the civilised world.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, First court statement (1962):
Statement on charges of inciting persons to strike illegally, and of leaving the country without a valid passport.)

“I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days. Even although I now happen to be tried by one whose opinion I hold in high esteem, I detest most violently the set-up that surrounds me here. It makes me feel that I am a black man in a white man's court. This should not be.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, First court statement (1962):
Statement on charges of inciting persons to strike illegally, and of leaving the country without a valid passport.)

“'''I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, 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.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, I am Prepared to Die (1964):
Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court (20 April 1964))

“I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organization, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence...”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, I am Prepared to Die (1964):
Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court (20 April 1964))

“But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believe that South Africa belongs to all the people who live in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an interracial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. If the Court is in doubt about this, it will be seen that the whole history of our organization bears out what I have said, and what I will subsequently say, when I describe the tactics which Umkhonto decided to adopt.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, I am Prepared to Die (1964):
Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court (20 April 1964))

“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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: • Source: Wikiquote: "Nelson Mandela" (Quotes, 1960s, I am Prepared to Die (1964):
Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court (20 April 1964))

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“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on challenges, Letter to Winnie Mandela (1 February 1975), written on Robben Island. Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on friendship, From his unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in 1975. Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“I have never regarded any man as my superior, either in my life outside or inside prison.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on equaliy, From a letter to General Du Preez, Commissioner of Prisons, Written on Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa (12 July 1976). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Refusing to bargain for freedom after 21 years in prison, as quoted in TIME (25 February 1985)

“The cause of Communism is the greatest cause in the history of mankind becasuse it seeks to remove from society all forms of oppression and exploitation, to liberate mankind and to ensure peace and prosperity to all.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: "How to be a good Communist", United States Congressional Serial Set, Edition 13677, (1986), p. 37

“I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Speech on the day of his release, Cape Town (11 February 1990)

“Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity. I found that I worked better and thought more clearly when I was in good physical condition, and so training became one of the inflexible disciplines of my life.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Mandela, Nelson. “Nelson Mandela Quotes: 1–30 of 153 Quotes.” Last modified August 5, 2021. https://www.quotescosmos.com/people/Nelson-Mandela-quotes.html#17

Quote source: Interview with Gavin Evans, Soweto (15 February 1990) recounted in COVID-19 lockdown: Can you do Nelson Mandela's Robben Island prison cell workout?, 7 April 2020

“In Natal, apartheid is a deadly cancer in our midst, setting house against house, and eating away at the precious ties that bound us together. This strife among ourselves wastes our energy and destroys our unity. My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! Close down the death factories. End this war now!”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Speech to a Rally, Durban (25 February 1990); Republished in: J. C. Buthelezi. Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela: An Ecological Study, (2002), p. 340

“We are deeply concerned, both in our country and here, of the very large number of dropouts by schoolchildren. This is a very disturbing situation, because the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow... try as much as possible to remain in school, because education is the most powerful weapon which we can use.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Speech, Madison Park High School, Boston, 23 June 1990; Partly cited in Remembering Nelson Mandela's Visit To Roxbury at wgbhnews.org, December 5, 2013; and partly cited in "Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit left lasting impression" by Peter Schworm on bostonglobe.com, December 7, 2013

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“I never think of the time I have lost. I just carry out a programme because it’s there. It’s mapped out for me.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Madenla on time, From a conversation with Richard Stangel (3 May 1993). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: On death, in an interview for the documentary Mandela (1994). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“I had no specific belief except that our cause was just, was very strong and it was winning more and more support.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on ideology, Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa (11 February 1994). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on freedom of expression, At the international press institute congress (14 February 1994). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Mandela on character, Foreign Correspondent's Association's Annual Dinner, Johannesburg, South Africa (21 November 1997). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“When in 1977, the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, it was asserting the recognition that injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine. In the same period, the UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Address at ''The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (4 December 1997)

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Quote source: Nelson Madenla on leadership, Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary celebrations, Kwadukuza, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa (25 April 1998). Source: From Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

“Friends, Comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: 1990s, Our March to Freedom is Irreversible (1990)

“The majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other actions of our organization and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy.”

— Nelson Mandela

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Source: 1990s, Our March to Freedom is Irreversible (1990)

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