The 14 Most Important Nelson Mandela Quotes

My parents had a beautiful color framed picture of Nelson Mandela hanging in one of my childhood homes; it was alongside a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Jesus. This esteemed group of icons became intriguing to me, and as a kid I knew it was my duty to honor them by learning about their lives. Through my innate interest and educational background in politics and human rights, I have learned a great deal about the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela. Quotes cannot fully encompass the magnificent beacon of hope and strength that Mandela was to so many people, but they can help. I love quotes because they are compact glimpses into the genius of a person; a heightened look inside brilliance at a particular moment in time. I have ranked what I consider to be the 14 most important Nelson Mandela quotes of all time.

1.)??? ?It always seems impossible until it’s done.?

This quote speaks to every other quote that will be on this list. Who knew that a young reverend from the Southern United States would forever change the racial landscape of the greatest democracy on earth? Or a skinny Indian man would catapult the concept of civil disobedience onto the world stage? These things were once not even dreams; unable to have been fathomed. But they happened. What this quote teaches us, is that nothing is really impossible. Our wildest dreams are actually attainable. So get out and make them happen.


2.)??? ?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.?

Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years. That is more years than I have been alive. I cannot imagine such personal confinement. But Mandela did not simply embrace his newfound freedom once released, he fought for the freedom of others. His ability to embark on a journey of betterment for humanity as a whole is what makes Madiba a cultural icon. Many people have survived long prison sentences, but what you do after is the key. We are all humans, part of the same fabric of love, and we all deserve to be free.


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

Personal growth is a lucky journey for its voyager. What Mandela became did not leave his ?place? (South Africa, and the world) unchanged. However, this quote shows that not everyone has to be memorable on a global scale. Achieving personal spirituality, success, and living a life filled with love and genuine kindness, is as important as becoming the President of a country.


4.)??? ?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.?

If this doesn’t inspire you, then nothing will. Wasted talent is an offense to your creator. There are talents inside all of us and skating through life as easily as possible cannot be gratifying.


5.)??? ?I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.?

Who has not been in fear? No one. We would all reside in the same category of courage-less if that trait belonged to those who never experienced fear. Courage finds itself in the hearts of those who do not let fear defeat them. The threats against Mandela were continuous and common, but he lasted; he lasted 95 years.


6.)??? ?Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.?

Education matters. Education creates understanding. Understanding brings about peace. This concept can be seen worldwide in amazing people like Malala, who, in 2013 at age 16, became the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.


7.)??? ?Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.?

South Africa’s government did not just imprison Mandela, they wanted to erase him. His picture was not allowed to be seen or manufactured. They wanted to make him disappear; to rob him of everything he had and more importantly, everything he was. Now the world mourns the loss of this great leader. Politicians from countless countries are expressing how much better we are as people, because Madiba walked this earth. Average individuals cry tears for a man considered to be the last giant of equality and justice of the 20th Century. When Mandela said these men and institutions would lose, he was right.


8.)??? ?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.?

We have all struggled and we all hope for better.


9.)??? ?If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.?

This may be a controversial quote for some, but not so much for me. These words are true. Slavery, Jim Crow, Vietnam, are just a few atrocities committed by the United States. We are not the only country to commit atrocities, of course, but many of our citizens want to forget the past or expunge it completely. There is no justice in that. No enlightenment. We must acknowledge the past, at the very least, to help perfect our future.


10.)??????????????????????? ?My son has died of AIDS.?

A personal statement from Nelson Mandela. Another hardship in this great man’s life. This helped shine more light on a disease that plagues so much of Africa. To most of us, Mandela was a transformative figure, but from far away. Still, he was a father at the end of the day.

11.)??????????????????????? ?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.?

Some, mostly right wingers, are still labeling Mandela a terrorist and downplaying his positive force in the world. What if the government is the terrorist? Is the person fighting against terrorists, also a terrorist?


12.)??????????????????????? ?We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.?

Hesitation and complacency, cannot always move humanity towards more justice and equality. If something is right, do it. Seems simple, but it is not. Mandela’s legacy proves this.


13.)??????????????????????? ?Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.?

Perfect oratory for all that Mandela’s Presidential election win meant for South Africa and the world. If you were to discount his 27 year prison sentence, becoming the first black President of a nation with the racial history like that of South Africa?s, is extraordinary in and of itself.? No wonder Barack Obama admires him so much.


14.)??????????????????????? ?In my country we go to prison first and then become President.?

A simple yet profound summation of Nelson Mandela’s life. Highlighting two very distinct and opposing phases of his life, this quote illustrates the meaning of perseverance and grace.


Read more quotes from Nelson Mandela here.




I was born on January 13, 1990. I was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. I moved up north and attended the University of CT from 2008 to 2012. I currently also work at a law firm in Uptown Charlotte and have been helping with this organization entitled the National Independent Voter Coalition. My interests include: Politics (obviously), Basketball (playing and watching) and watching almost any sport, movies, reading, the law, human rights, entertainment, mostly Angelina Jolie and Beyonce. I am fun, caring, passionate, intelligent, and unique!


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