Nelson Mandela is one of the most quoted - and misquoted - people in the world, but his authorised book of quotations will help to ensure accuracy.
Nelson Mandela is one of the most quoted – and misquoted – people in the world, but his authorised book of quotations will help to ensure accuracy.

Nelson Mandela is regarded by many as a man of wisdom and insight – his words have touched and inspired people all around the world.

Taken from Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, we present some of the inspirational sayings by the former president that have roused and touched many internationally.

The book, released in June 2011 just ahead of the statesman’s 93rd birthday, is “wholly accurate, fully referenced and authorised”, said the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory at the time.

It features over 2 000 quotations – many previously unpublished – gathered over six decades and taken from audio recordings, speeches, correspondence, interviews, private papers and more. The collection is organised into 317 categories, from Accountability to Zionism.

Mandela’s definition of greatness is found under Character, Courage and Optimism, while we learn from him the essence of democracy, freedom and struggle in categories such as Democracy, History, Racism, Reconciliation and Unity.

The sayings are presented in chronological order within each section so that the reader can track the progress of Mandela’s thoughts and opinions on any matter.

Nelson Mandela By Himself was published under the editorship of Centre of Memory CEO Sello Hatang and senior researcher Sahm Venter, who guarantee that each saying is 100% accurate. They said that Mandela is one of the most-quoted people in the world, and so the book will also ease the task of the centre as it receives numerous calls every day asking for confirmation of this or that of Mandela’s utterances.

Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations is a comprehensive resource on the sayings of South Africa’s former president.
(Images: Janine Erasmus)

The book also includes a timeline of important Mandela events, and a selection of books and documentaries that were used as references.

The words of Nelson Mandela


  • The collapse of good conscience and the absence of accountability and public scrutiny have led to crimes against humanity and violations of international law.
    Rally, Bloemfontein, South Africa, 25 February 1990
  • There is an absence of democratic accountability and control in every sphere of government and the state. To address this debilitating legacy requires determined action and a deep commitment to transforming our society from a crisis ridden present into something all South Africans can be truly proud of.
    International Press Institute Congress, Cape Town, South Africa, 14 February 1994


  • Our achievements, however we know full well, must not be used as an excuse for exaggerating our success or for ignoring errors committed and weakness that require urgent attention. From an article published in Africa South volume 6.1, October-December 1961
  • We must always remain modest about our achievements. Fortieth anniversary of the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 16 December 2001


  • Aids is a major problem to be tackled by the entire world. To deal with it requires resources far beyond the capacity of one continent. No single country has the capacity to deal with it. From a notebook, December 1991
  • Aids is not a curse that we must deny, it is an illness that can be defeated. Resisting the continued stigmatisation of HIV-positive people is not only a compassionate act, it is practical and pragmatic. IBID
  • Aids is no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue. IBID
  • The fight against Aids is one of the greatest challenges the world faces at the start of the 21st century. Closing ceremony of the 15th international Aids conference, Bangkok, Thailand, 16 July 2004


  • The racial policies of the government have pricked the conscience of all men of goodwill and have aroused their deepest indignation. The feelings of the oppressed people have never been more bitter. IBID
  • The apartheid system has devastated the country. Poverty is rampant and endemic. The conditions of the life for the people continue to worsen everyday. Address to the French national assembly, Bourbon Palace, Paris, France, 7 June 1990
  • Ours has been a bitterly divided society in which laws and the police were used to defend and maintain a legitimate system. National day of safety and security , Soweto, South Africa, 15 October 1994


  • I learnt 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 the fear. From Long Walk to Freedom, 1994


  • I would like it to be said that, “here lies a man who has done his duty on earth”. That is all. From the MSNBC documentary Headliners and Legends, 2006


  • Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Address at the Planetarium , Johannesburg , South Africa , 16 July 2003
  • No child in Africa and in fact anywhere in the world should be denied education. I know that we can reach this goal. Launch of the Dream For Africa international fund raising campaign, Cape Town, South Africa, 6 December 2004


  • There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1994


  • Hope is a powerful weapon and no one power on earth can deprive you of From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island, 23 June 1969
  • I never dreamt that time and hope could mean so much as they do now. From a letter to Adelaide Tambo, written on Robben Island, 31 January 1970

Human Rights

  • To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them. Address to the joint session of the House of Congress, Washington DC, US, 26 June 1990


  • In the end we must remember that no amount of rules or their enforcement will defeat those who struggle with justice on their side. At the 50th anniversary of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade, Geneva, Switzerland, 19 May 1998


  • I believed that in taking up a stand against this injustice, I was upholding the dignity of what should be an honourable profession. Talking about racial discrimination against black lawyers during his trial for incitement and leaving the country illegally, Palace of Justice, Pretoria, South Africa, November 1962


  • Landmines are blind weapons that cannot distinguish between the footfall of a soldier and that of old woman gathering firewood. They recognise no cease-fire, long after the fighting has stopped, they can maim or kill the children and the grandchildren of the soldiers who laid them. From a message in support of Night of a Thousand Dinners, Rotary Pretoria East, Pretoria, South Africa , November 2003


  • The spirit of people cannot be crushed and no matter what happens to the present leadership, new leaders will arise like mushrooms till full victory is won. Presidential address to the annual congress of the ANC Youth League
  • There are various standards by which to measure the significance of an organisation. One of the most important of these standards is the calibre of its leadership. From a letter to Reverend Andrew Hunter, written in Victor Verster prison, Paarl, South Africa, 21 August 1989
  • Only leaders of a special calibre and integrity are able to see the basic problems that affect us all and who tend avoid the sterile polemics. From a letter to James Mndaweni, written in Victor Verster prison, Paarl, South Africa, 21 August 1989


  • The media is one of the principal figures in ensuring that we develop our country, we unite our people, we promote reconciliation. Briefing to editors and opinion makers, Pretoria, South Africa, 28 November 2003
  • Newspapers allow us to hold a mirror up to ourselves, and we must be brave enough to look squarely at the reflections. From a message to the congress of the World Association of Newspapers at the 14th congress of the World Editors Forum, Castle of Good Hope , Cape Town, South Africa, 3 June 2007


  • Whatever my wishes might be, I cannot bind future generations to remember me in the particular way I would like. From an interview with John Battersby, Johannesburg, South Africa, published in the Christian Science Monitor on 10 February 2000
  • We should never forget those on whose shoulders we stand and those who paid the supreme price for freedom. Upon receiving the freedom of Howick , South Africa, 12 December 1996


  • 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. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1994


  • Permanent values in social life and thought cannot be created by people who are indifferent or hostile to the aspirations of a nation. From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island, 23 June 1969


  • South Africa is producing determined young people whose level of awareness is remarkably high. From a letter to Hilda Bernstein, written in Pollsmoor prison, Cape Town, South Africa, 8 July 1985
  • The involvement of students in the freedom struggle is crucial and the emergence of a vigorous student movement is to be welcomed. From an essay entitled “Whither the black consciousness movement”, written on Robben Island, 1978
  • I pay tribute to the endless heroism of youth; you, the young lions, have energised our entire struggle. First speech after his release, City Hall, Cape Town, South Africa, 11 February 1990

By: Rudo Mungoshi