61 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela

Last updated on Jan 8th, 2024

61 Inspiring Quotes from Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born July 18, 1918, in South Africa – died December 5, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa) was the first President of South Africa elected in a fully representative democratic election, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk, revolutionary, anti-apartheid icon, and philanthropist who his whole life dedicated to the struggle for human rights.

Unwavering on racial equality, the fight against poverty, and faith in humanity, he managed to create a new and better chapter in the lives of all South Africans.

During his long life, Mandela inspired us with numerous words of wisdom that will remain in the memory of many.

Below are the most famous Nelson Mandela quotes on education, life, freedom, courage, forgiveness, and leadership.

1

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.From an address at the at Planetarium, Johannesburg, South Africa (July 16, 2003)

2

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 458

3

A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you’ve something very special.Higher than Hope: A Biography of Nelson Mandela by Fatima Meer (1990), Page 407

4

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 542

5

Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.Interviewed by Anthony Sampson, in The Guardian (May 1, 1994)

To deny any people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
6

To deny any people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.From an address to a joint session of the Houses of Congress, Washington DC, USA (June 26, 1990)

7

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.At the Chief Albert Luthuli Centenary Celebrations, KwaDukuza, South Africa (April 25, 1998)

8

Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another.From the dock at the Rivonia Treason Trial (April 20, 1964)

9

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 19

10

I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 493

11

In countries where innocent people are dying, the leaders are following their blood rather than their brains.Mandela the Pol by Anthony Lewis, in The New York Times (March 23, 1997)

No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
12

No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.The Oprah Magazine (April 2001)

13

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 544

14

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 mountain tops of our desires.No Easy Walk to Freedom (1973), Page 31

15

The path of those who preach love, and not hatred, is not easy. They often have to wear a crown of thorns.From a message to the Global Convention on Peace and Non-violence, New Delhi, India (January 31, 2004)

16

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.When Mandela was released from prison (February 11, 1990)

17

Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts.Refusing to bargain for freedom after 21 years in prison.

One of the most difficult things is not to change society - but to change yourself. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
18

One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.From an interviwe with John Battersby, Johannesburg, South Africa, published in the Cristian Science Monitor (February 10, 2000)

19

Freedom would be meaningless without security in the home and in the streets.Speech at the Freedom Day Celebrations, Union Buildings, Pretoria (April 27, 1995)

20

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.Speech at the opening of the South African parliament, Cape Town (May 24, 1994)

21

A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 544

22

Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.From a letter to Makhaya Ntini on his 100th Cricket Test (December 17, 2009)

23

I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.From his unpublished autobiographical manuscript written in 1975.

To make peace with an enemy one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one's partner. - Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom Quotes)
24

To make peace with an enemy one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 533

25

Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.Excerpts from an interview for the documentary Mandela (1994)

26

Take it upon yourself where you live to make people around you joyful and full of hope.At the opening of the Zola Clinic, Soweto, South Africa (March 7, 2002)

27

Hope is a powerful weapon, and [one] no one power on earth can deprive you of.Letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island (June 23, 1969)

28

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.First court statement (1962)

29

Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.National Reconciliation Day, South Africa (December 16, 1995)

When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
30

When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.In an interview for the documentary Mandela (1994)

31

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 174

32

If you don’t intend having a compromise, you don’t negotiate at all.At home, Soweto, South Africa (February 14, 1990)

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33

Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (1994), Page 542

34

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.Speech in London's Trafalgar Square (February 2005)

35

Once a person is determined to help themselves, there is nothing that can stop them.Father's Day lunch hosted by Zindzi Mandela, Hyatt Women of Vision Club, Johannesburg, South Africa (June 1, 2001)

When people are determined they can overcome anything. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
36

When people are determined they can overcome anything.From a conversation with Morgan Freeman, Johannesburg (November 2006)

37

For a revolution is not just a question of pulling a trigger; its purpose is to create a fair and just society.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 267

38

There is a streak of goodness in men that can be buried or hidden and then emerge unexpectedly.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 226

39

The past is a rich resource on which we can draw in order to make decisions for the future, but it does not dictate our choices. We should look back at the past and select what is good, and leave behind what is bad.Speech at Rally in Durban (February 25, 1990)

40

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.Letter to Winnie Mandela (February 1, 1975), written on Robben Island.

41

If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.From an address to the court on charges of inciting workers strike and leaving the country illegally, Old Synagogue, Pretoria, South Africa, (November 7, 1962)

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. - Nelson Mandela (Long Walk to Freedom Quotes)
42

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 223

43

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 341

44

A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.Sixth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, Kliptown, Soweto, South Africa (July 12, 2008)

45

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 542

46

I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.The Baker Institute at Rice University, Houston (October 26, 1999)

47

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 72

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
48

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.Mandela, at White House, Says World Backs Clinton by James Bennet, in New York Times (September 23, 1998)

49

One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.The Sunday Times (April 16, 2000)

50

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.Speech at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Pretoria, (May 8, 1995)

51

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.

52

It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership by Richard Stengel, Time Magazine (July 09, 2008)

53

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.Long Walk to Freedom (1994), Page 544

What matters is not so much what happens to a person than the way such person takes it. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
54

What matters is not so much what happens to a person than the way such person takes it.Letter to Tim Maharaj, written on Robben Island (February 1, 1971)

55

I can’t pretend that I’m brave and that I can beat the whole world.From a conversation with Richard Stengel (March 18, 1993)

56

Nonviolence is a good policy when the conditions permit.Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport (June 28, 1990)

57

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.Readers Digest interview (2005)

58

It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Foreign Correspondents Association annual dinner, Johannesburg, South Africa (November 21, 1997)

59

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. 90th birthday celebration of Walter Sisulu, Walter Sisulu Hall, Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa (May 18, 2002)

60

Appearances matter – and remember to smile.Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership by Richard Stengel, Time Magazine (July 09, 2008)

We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others. - Nelson Mandela Quotes
61

We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others.Upon receiving the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (June 8, 2002)

No Source

1

It always seems impossible until it’s done.No source

2

In my country we go to prison first and then become President.No source

3

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.No source

4

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.No source

What is your favorite Nelson Mandela quote?