Nelson Mandela. File photo: Reuters
Nelson Mandela. File photo: Reuters

95 Mandela quotes to live by

Time of article published Jul 18, 2013

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Nelson Mandela celebrates his 95th birthday in the glare of the world’s attention once again, after spending almost six weeks in intensive care in hospital. Today, as we commemorate his birthday, here are 95 of his most famous quotes to inspire, to celebrate and to savour as chosen by The Star’s journalists.

* I have fought against black domination and I have fought against white 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.

* After climbing a great hill one finds that there are many more hills to climb.

* 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.

* A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

* 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.

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

* I learnt 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.

* Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

* When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.

* 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.

* It always seems impossible until it’s done.

* 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.

* Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

* There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.

* Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front.

* I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.

* 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.

* Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

* 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.

* As I walked out the door towards 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.

* 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, but humility.

* Where you stand depends on where you sit.

* I am the captain of my soul.

* One of the things I learnt when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.

* My respect for human beings is based not on the colour of a man’s skin nor the authority he may wield, but purely on merit.

* Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.

* Courage is not the absence of fear - it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.

* A leader… is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.

* Appearances matter - and remember to smile.

* A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.

* Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the Struggle we serve.

* Many people in this country have paid the price before me and many will pay the price after me.

* If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.

* 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.

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

* “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.

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

* 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.

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

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

* It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 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.

* 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.

* We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others.

* Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty.

* When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?

* You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with and a sense of humour and a complete relaxation, even when you’re discussing serious things, does help to mobilise friends around you. And I love that.

* 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.

* Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.

* You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.

* One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.

* 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.

* There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

* 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.

* Know your enemy - and learn about his favourite sport.

* Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great; you can be that generation.

* 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 fulfil themselves.

* It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.

* When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.

* We must use time creatively, and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right.

* The brave man is not the one who has no fears, he is the one who triumphs over his fears.

* I dream of an Africa which is at peace with itself.

* It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.

* Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savour their songs.

* I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A person does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards.

* We owe our children - the most vulnerable citizens in any society - a life free from violence and fear.

* I am not an optimist, but a great believer in hope.

* 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.

* Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.

* Only free men can negotiate; prisoners can’t enter into contracts.

* No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.

* I could not imagine that the future I was walking towards could compare in any way to the past that I was leaving behind.

* There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.

* Once a person is determined to help themselves, there is nothing that can stop them.

* Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening.

* Success in politics demands that you must take your people into confidence about your views and state them very clearly, very politely, very calmly, but nevertheless, state them openly.

* Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.

* 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.

* Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never explained.

* Money won’t create success; the freedom to make it will.

* For a revolution is not just a question of pulling a trigger; its purpose is to create a fair, just society.

* Although Verwoerd thought Africans were lower than animals, his death did not yield us any pleasure. Political assassination is not something I or the ANC ever supported. It is a primitive way of contending with an opponent.

* A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire.

* The authorities liked to say that we received a balanced diet; it was indeed balanced - between the unpalatable and the inedible.

* 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. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.

* If the United States of America or Britain are having elections, they don’t ask for observers from Africa or from Asia. But when we have elections, they want observers.

* I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.

* 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?

* 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.

* 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.

* Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.

* Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.

* To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.

* Unlike some politicians, I can admit to a mistake.

* In countries where innocent people are dying, the leaders are following their blood rather than their brains.

* 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.

* Sources: Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, goodreads.com and brainyquote.com

The Star

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