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Nelson Mandela: in his own words

Nelson Mandela addressing the crowd at a rally in Port Elizabeth on April 1, 1990.

Notable quotations by the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader

Nelson Mandela was regarded as one of the great figures of the past century for his generosity of spirit, sacrifices in the name of equality and his efforts to reconcile the races in South Africa amid the ever-present specter of conflict. Here are some words of wisdom from the iconic leader.

“For my own part I have made my choice. 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.” — ANC press statement, 1961.

“I and some colleagues came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.” — Statement at the opening of his defence in the Rivonia treason trial, April 20, 1964.

“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.” — Upon his release from prison, February 11, 1990.

“It will forever remain an indelible blight on human history that the apartheid crime ever occurred. Future generations will surely ask: what error was made that this system established itself in the wake of the adoption of a universal declaration of human rights? It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say ‘enough is enough.’” — To a UN committee against apartheid, June 22, 1990.

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come... the moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.” — At his inauguration as the President of South Africa, May 10, 1994.

“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.” — from his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.” — On his drive and desire, also from Long Walk to Freedom.

“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 determines the significance of the life we lead.” — On the 90th birthday of Walter Sisulu, May 18, 2002.

“We live in a world where knowledge and information have made enormous strides, yet millions of children are not in school. We live in a world where the AIDS pandemic threatens the very fabric of our lives. Yet we spend more money on weapons than on ensuring treatment and support for the millions infected by HIV. It is a world of great promise and hope. It is also a world of despair, disease and hunger.” — At the Live8 concert in Johannesburg, 2005.

“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is people who have made poverty and tolerated poverty, and it is people who will overcome it.” — 2006.

“On my last day I want to know that those who remain behind will say: ‘The man who lies here has done his duty for his country and his people.’” — 1999.

Herald with AP, Reuters, Washington Post

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