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16 Nelson Mandela Quotes That Still Resonate Today

Revolutionary and leader Nelson Mandela is remembered for both his resilience and his genuine belief in people’s potential for good. Born in South Africa in 1918, he was an outspoken critic of the apartheid system, and his work with the African National Congress called for the dismantling of the regime through nonviolent protest.

Mandela co-founded the first Black law practice in South Africa, and began specializing in anti-apartheid cases. In 1961, he worked with the South African Communist Party to co-found the militant arm of the organization, Umkhonto we Sizwe, through which he led a sabotage campaign against the government. He was eventually sentenced to 27 years in prison.

As a Black political prisoner, Mandela was subjected to severe conditions and poor treatment. Still, rather than build resentment or hatred toward his enemies, he focused on forgiveness and dreamt up new ways to heal his country’s divisions. He was finally released in 1990 after growing domestic and international pressure, at which point he helped to negotiate an end to apartheid. The people of South Africa were so inspired by his dedication to justice, they elected him president in the nation’s first multiracial general election in 1994.

Mandela’s leadership completely changed South Africa and made him a global icon for activists everywhere seeking a better, more just world. “I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come,” he wrote in his book Dare Not Linger. “But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Here are some of Mandela’s quotes that still resonate today, more than 30 years after his release from prison. His words and story remain a necessary reminder that the fight for freedom is never ending, and we dare not linger.


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

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.

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

Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

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

It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.

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.

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.

A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.

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

No one is born hating another person because of the color 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.

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

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

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

There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return.

Photo credit: TREVOR SAMSON/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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