15 of Mandela’s most inspirational quotes

2018 was Nelson Mandela’s centennial, marking what would have been his 100th birthday. The great leader was one of the brave activists to lead South Africa out of apartheid, spending 27 years in prison for protesting and eventually becoming the country’s first democratically-elected president in 1994. At the end of this noteworthy year, these are 15 of Mandela’s most inspirational quotes – all of which are still highly relevant today.

Mandela speaking in Soweto after his release from prison in 1990. Credit: Getty.

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

Mandela said this in a speech at Madison Park High School, Boston on 23rd June 1990.

2. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour 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).

The Nelson Mandela statue outside Victor Verster Prison, one of the places he was imprisoned.

3. “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.”

Said in a speech at Trafalgar Square, London on 3rd February 2005.

4. “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).

5. “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Long Walk to Freedom (1994).

Mandela places his first vote at Ohlange High School, Durban in 1994. Credit: United Nations Photo.

6. “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”

In his inaugural address as President of South Africa, 10th May 1994.

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

Said during an interview in the documentary Mandela (1994).

8. “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, a black South African cricketer, dated 17th December 2009.

Robben Island
Robben Island – now a place visitors can learn about anti-apartheid freedom fighters.

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

Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012).

10. “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.”

From a speech at Walter Sisulu’s 90th birthday celebrations in Johannesburg, 18th May 2002.

11. “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

Long Walk to Freedom (1994).

12. “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?”

Mandela speaking about HIV/Aids at the 46664 Concert in Tromso, Norway on 11th June 2005.

In Johannesburg, 1992. Credit: Getty.

13. “Our differences are our strength as a species and as a world community.”

Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012).

14. “It is a grave error for any leader to be oversensitive in the face of criticism.”

Conversations With Myself (2010).

15. “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom (2012).

Read more about South Africa’s history: 50 fascinating facts.

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