In His Own Words


Foreword by Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General

Foreword by Bill Clinton

By Nelson Mandela

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In spreading the message of freedom, equality, and human dignity, Nelson Mandela helped transform not only his own nation, but the entire world. Now his most important speeches are collected in a single volume. From the eve of his imprisonment to his release twenty-seven years later, from his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize to his election as South Africa’s first black president, these speeches span some of the most pivotal moments of Mandela’s life and his country’s history.

Arranged thematically and accompanied by tributes from leading world figures, Mandela’s addresses memorably illustrate his lasting commitment to freedom and reconciliation, democracy and development, culture and diversity, and international peace and well-being. The extraordinary power of this volume is in the moving words and intimate tone of Mandela himself, one of the most courageous and articulate men of our time.

“There is no easy way to walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires.” — Nelson Mandela, September 1953




42nd President of the United States

I love and respect President Mandela very much, not least for his unfailing kindness and generosity to Hillary, Chelsea and me.

He has taught us so much about so many things. Perhaps the greatest lesson, especially for young people, is that, while bad things do happen to good people, we still have the freedom and the responsibility to decide how to respond to injustice, cruelty and violence and how they will affect our spirits, hearts and minds.

In his 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela endured physical and emotional abuse, isolation and degradation. Somehow, his trials purified his spirit and clarified his vision, giving him the strength to be a free man even behind bars, and to remain free of anger and hatred when he was at last released.

That freedom is reflected in the way he governed as President, bringing those who had oppressed him into his administration and doing everything he could to bring people together across racial, economic and political lines, and trying to get all South Africans to make the same ‘long walk to freedom’ that has made his own life so extraordinary.

The best gift we can give him on this special occasion is to persist in our own struggle to forgive those who have trespassed against us and to work, every day, to tear down the barriers that divide us.

At 85, President Mandela is still building bridges, especially those that unite us in the battle against HIV/Aids, which he calls an ‘even heavier and greater fight’ than the struggle against apartheid.

Through times darker than most people ever will endure in their own lives, President Mandela saw a better and brighter future for himself and for his country. Now, he gives us hope that our work to eradicate HIV/Aids from the world is not in vain, and that one day, this awful scourge will exist alongside apartheid only in the history books.

Mandela’s enduring legacy is that, under a crushing burden of oppression he saw through differences, discrimination and destruction to embrace our common humanity.Thanks to his life and work, the rest of us are closer to embracing it too.



On 18 July 2003, Mr Nelson Mandela is 85 years old–or 85 years young–and still with us, still going strong. As a tribute to Madiba, and as a testimony to his lasting legacy, we are presenting him with this book as a birthday gift.To the readers of this book, who share in that legacy, we want to welcome you to the celebration.

Our book honours an individual imbued with great ideals of reason, imagination, justice, and freedom, with the depth of moral character formed by the toughest of circumstances, able yet, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant once had it, to ‘treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only’.

Based on selections from Nelson Mandela’s speeches, this book provides a lively, memorable profile of his enduring commitment to freedom and reconciliation,democracy and development,culture and diversity, and the flourishing of all the people of South Africa,Africa, and the world. The book highlights Madiba’s ongoing concerns for children, education, and health; it features his own tributes to South African heroes, such as Steve Biko, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu; and it concludes with his significant contributions to international peace building. In this book, we will be able to recall and reaffirm the solid foundation that Nelson Mandela established for building a sustainable future.

The chapters are introduced by leading national and international figures in the fields of politics, diplomacy, development, education, health, religion, culture, and the creative and performing arts. In these introductory essays, authors pay tribute to Nelson Mandela’s achievements, animating their accounts with personal memories, stories, and reflections, but they also creatively engage the principles at stake in each of these areas. In the light of the legacy of Nelson Mandela, they identify the building blocks for a South African future.

We are well aware that the praises of Nelson Mandela have often been sung. He has been honoured, awarded, feted, and revered all over the world, by international political leaders and ordinary people, in an unprecedented, sustained chorus of love and respect. Enraptured by all this praise singing, we might sometimes forget the long struggle and the dark days, the painful losses and the hard negotiations, which made this joyful music possible.

Also, we might find ourselves taking for granted the truly remarkable consensus, across every conceivable divide, that has greeted the achievements of Nelson Mandela. As we saw in the 1990s, the presidents of the United States and Cuba, who were politically divided on many matters, nevertheless agreed on singing Madiba’s praises. Here is the former US President Bill Clinton:

For a long time the name Nelson Mandela has stood for the quest for freedom. His spirit never bent before the injustice of his 27 years of imprisonment. Apartheid could not silence him.… After his long struggle, Nelson Mandela found in himself the strength to reach out to others; to build up instead of tear down. He led his country forward, always choosing reconciliation over division.This is the miracle of the new South Africa.Time and again, President Mandela showed real wisdom and rose above bitterness. President Mandela and the South African people, both black and white, have inspired others around the world.1

Recognising Nelson Mandela as ‘the symbol of freedom for the world’, President Clinton sang his praises, identifying personal qualities of strength, determination, and wisdom that bore profound political significance. In similar terms, the President of the Republic of Cuba, Fidel Castro, addressing the South African Parliament in 1998, began his speech by singing the praises of Nelson Mandela. Here is President Fidel Castro:

Nelson Mandela will not go down in history for the 27 consecutive years that he lived imprisoned without ever renouncing his ideas. He will go down in history because he was able to draw from his soul all the poison accumulated by such an unjust punishment. He will be remembered for his generosity and for his wisdom at the time of an already uncontainable victory, when he knew how to lead so brilliantly his self-sacrificing and heroic people, aware that the new South Africa would never be built on foundations of hatred and revenge.2

So, here is a mystery: We hear similar praises coming from different positions along the global political spectrum. In both cases, however, Nelson Mandela is recognised for his distinctive merger of the personal and the political. Political transformation in South Africa was enabled by Nelson Mandela’s personal capacity to purge any poison of hatred or revenge from his soul, to rise above bitterness, to demonstrate a generosity of spirit, and to reach out to others, all the while remaining true, even under the harshest conditions of injustice, imprisonment, and oppression, to his political principles.

Those principles, Nelson Mandela would argue, were not his alone. They were the shared achievement of a political movement, the African National Congress. As his favourite self-description, he often has explained that he is first and foremost a loyal member of the ANC. Still, as Presidents Clinton and Castro recognised, the political assumed a distinctively personal quality in Nelson Mandela. He proved, as Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan observes, in his Foreword to this book, that one individual, with such courage and tenacity, with such dignity and magnanimity, can actually make a difference in political struggles.

These praise singers, you might say, are just politicians, engaging in political rhetoric. But real singers, real artists, poets, and musicians, have also sung the praises of Nelson Mandela. Here is the poet laureate of Great Britain, the poet Andrew Motion:

That straight walk from the

prison to the gate–

that walk the world saw, and

which changed the world–

it led you through to life from

life withheld,

from broken stones with your

unbroken heart.

To life which you imagined

and then lived,

which once we shared in your


but soon shared in the

present that you shaped:

the life which gave each

human hope its chance

of turning into truth and

staying true;

the life which understood

what changing takes;

the life which showed us we

become ourselves

in part by watching you

becoming you.3

As both dramatic art and political rhetoric, praise singing enables a special kind of identification between singer, community, and the focus of praise. In Andrew Motion’s evocative formulation, we, the new South Africa, but also we, the human community, become ourselves by forming a sense of belonging to a shared, collective identity, by watching Nelson Mandela become himself.

In his commitment to truth, as Andrew Motion proposed, Nelson Mandela created a space of hope in which people could find their own dreams and aspirations taking shape and finding a place. By providing a focal point for a sense of human solidarity, shared in the present, Nelson Mandela changed the way people experienced the space of South Africa and the larger world. That shared space of human solidarity, mutuality, and recognition, however, was shaped by Nelson Mandela during a time of dramatic historical transformation. Praise singers must also link the space of the present with its historical genealogy, locating our current place in the flow of time. Space and time, geography and history, are both mediated by the traditional poet’s praises. In the chorus for the epic poem, The Cure of Troy, composed by the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Seamus Heaney, a chorus inspired by Nelson Mandela’s return from prison, the poet reflects upon the world-historical significance of such a rare merger of hope and history. Here is Seamus Heaney:

Human beings suffer.

They torture one another.

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.

History says, Don’t hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a farther shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.

If there’s fire on the mountain

And lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.

It means once in a lifetime

That justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.4

Although inspired by Nelson Mandela’s freedom, and the freedom mobilised in South Africa in large measure by his ability to merge hope with history, this chorus resonates with other historical struggles, from ancient Greece to colonial Africa, from the past to the present, wherever human beings suffer and unexpectedly, remarkably, discover that their hopes are justified by being borne out in history. Rarely, as the chorus sings, have we seen such a birth. Emerging from confinement, Nelson Mandela’s release from prison was the ‘outcry and the birth-cry of new life’. In the chorus of Seamus Heaney, the life of Nelson Mandela, animated by the uprising of justice, has given birth to a new harmony of hope and history in South Africa.

So, as we see, poets sing his praises.All the world celebrates. Nelson Mandela belongs to the world. However, South Africans can say, with justification, that he belongs, in the first instance, to us, with us, as an integral part of our struggles, accomplishments, and hopes for the future.The chapters of this book document that South African story, tracing the basic themes of Nelson Mandela’s political vision, not only to recall the past, but also to identify enduring foundations for the future.

Helping us to understand the enduring legacy of Nelson Mandela, the authors of the introductions to each chapter of this book, who are leaders, in their own right, in many fields of endeavour, reflect upon the personal and political ingredients for building a South African future.Their thoughtful, vivid, and revealing commentaries, we will find, cast new light on our path.

At the same time, the speeches of Nelson Mandela, as they are gathered in this volume, have their own clarity. Let us reflect, briefly, on the illuminating story that unfolds through this review of the speeches of Nelson Mandela.

In the first chapter, Struggle,we collect classic speeches, from 1951 through the 1980s, in which Nelson Mandela enunciated the principles for mobilising resistance to oppression. As early as 1951, he announced that Africans were struggling to become agents of their own destiny against opposition mounted by both apartheid and global forces.With the entrenchment of oppression in South Africa under the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela maintained the integrity of those principles in the face of persecution, trials, and imprisonment.This history is captured in the powerful record of his testimony, spoken before judges who sought his death, about the principles for which he lived and for which he was ultimately prepared to die. In the last speech of this chapter, delivered by his daughter Zindzi in 1985, Nelson Mandela reaffirmed that he would rather remain in prison than sacrifice the birthright of freedom that would be the inheritance of all the people of South Africa. During those dark days of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s promise, defying his life-sentence in prison, seemed impossible: ‘I will return.’

The second chapter, Freedom, recalls the surprising, exhilarating realisation of that promise. Beginning with Nelson Mandela’s first speech after being released from prison in 1990, this chapter collects the speeches he delivered upon his election and inauguration in 1994 as the first president of a democratic South Africa. Giving a sense of his continuing, deepening understanding of freedom, the chapter features Nelson Mandela’s annual addresses on the new national holiday of Freedom Day, every 27 April, during the term of his presidency.

In the third chapter, Reconciliation, we are reminded that freedom was achieved through difficult processes of negotiation. Although the release of political prisoners and the unbanning of political organisations introduced a new era of hope, the negotiations that followed were constantly threatened. Giving a sense of the hard work of negotiation, the speeches in this chapter also demonstrate Nelson Mandela’s commitment to reconciling conflicting interests, not for the sake of reconciliation at any cost, but for the practical realisation of democratic goals.The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was part of this process, as reflected in Nelson Mandela’s speeches at commissioning and receiving the report of the TRC. Like Freedom Day, Reconciliation Day, 16 December, has also become a national holiday in South Africa, transforming a day associated with specific nationalist interests–the apartheid regime’s Day of the Covenant, the ANC’s Heroes Day–into a commemoration of the broader interests of reconciliation that are at work in building a new nation.

Nation building, the focus of the fourth chapter, collects speeches in which Nelson Mandela reflects on the transition from resistance to governance, from the principled opposition to nationalist oppression to the principled creation of a new national identity.As these speeches recall, the language of building, evident in the programmatic slogan, Masakhane, ‘Building together’, infused all of these efforts to mobilise support for a new national project. Nation building, as reflected in Nelson Mandela’s speeches, was underwritten by a ‘new patriotism’, but it also had to be true to the principles of the struggle for liberation. In the process of ‘building the country of our dreams’, he insisted, the long walk to freedom continued.

Building together, as the fifth chapter, Development, shows, required critical and creative interventions in the South African economy.To address the legacy of apartheid, with its widespread, endemic impoverishment of South Africa’s people, required a political programme that was also an economic programme. Reconstruction and development, at the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, laid the basis for this programme. As the speeches in this chapter recall, President Mandela was actively involved in advancing this through development projects, urban and rural, but also through participating in ongoing negotiations, facilitating a new social dialogue, among government, business, labour, and community organisations. In the speeches of this chapter, we also see Nelson Mandela’s abiding concern for sustainable development that merges human needs with conservation, environmentalism, and ecology in ways that are good for humanity and the planet.

Beginning with the sixth chapter, Education,we highlight Nelson Mandela’s commitments to the broad range of human formation, including his concerns with teaching and learning, culture, religion, health, and the wellbeing of children. All of these issues, of course, are directly related to his political vision. Education, for example, was central to the political struggle against apartheid.The student uprising of 16 June 1976, now commemorated annually by the national holiday,Youth Day, was a watershed in the political role of students. As the speeches in this chapter illustrate, Nelson Mandela was, and still is, actively involved in education, not only receiving honorary degrees, but in opening schools, initiating school projects, encouraging transformation, and reflecting on the importance of education, at every level, for the future of a democratic South Africa.

Culture, as the seventh chapter documents, means more than merely entertainment, recreation, or leisure pursuits. Cultural resources, according to Nelson Mandela, have a power, an efficacy, in politics. As we recall, singers, poets, and artists, who were active in demanding his release from prison in the 1980s, were celebrating his leadership of a new South Africa in the 1990s. In the speeches collected in this chapter, we recall how music, dance, and poetry, sports and athletics, and a free media are all potentially liberating forces of culture in a democratic society. At the same time, as the speeches in this chapter recount, Nelson Mandela has been attentive to cultural diversity, encouraging, by example, respect and understanding for all of the many cultural formations of South Africa.

Focusing on an important aspect of culture, Religion, the eighth chapter recalls Nelson Mandela’s efforts to address specific religious concerns while promoting tolerance, respect, and understanding among all of the different religious communities of South Africa. In the speeches collected in this chapter, we find Nelson Mandela speaking with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews, valuing them as human beings, while acknowledging the importance of religion in the struggle against apartheid and the building of a new nation. Religious diversity, as Nelson Mandela proposes, is not an obstacle to national unity but a vital resource for a nation based on a commitment to unity in diversity.

Nelson Mandela’s concern for the wellbeing of people, as reflected in the ninth chapter, Health, is evident in his ongoing commitment to advancing health care as a basic human right. During his presidency, as the speeches collected in this chapter show, the ANC government demonstrated a commitment to advancing public health and community health. This concern for health was demonstrated through the building of clinics such as the one in the village of Nobody. This village derived its name, according to legend, from white settlers in the region who insisted ‘nobody but whites can live here’, though in fact the vast majority of its residents were African when its clinic, the 350th health clinic opened under Nelson Mandela’s administration, was established in 1997. In response to the crisis of HIV/Aids, Nelson Mandela engaged in an ongoing effort, as demonstrated by the speeches in this chapter, to break the silence, move from rhetoric to action, and take on Aids as the ‘new struggle’ in Africa.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which has emerged as an important focus for his political activity after his presidency, sustains Nelson Mandela’s concerns for the wellbeing of children that are reviewed in the tenth chapter, Children.Weaving children into a social fabric of care, these speeches call for a programme of action on behalf of children, both locally, within South Africa, and globally, which will advance children’s rights as human rights.

During the early 1940s, one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League, Anton Lembede–who was, in some respects, its intellectual catalyst, a colleague in those days of such youthful activists as Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela–argued that forging a future required remembering the past. ‘One who wants to create the future,’ Lembede observed,‘must not forget the past.’ In the eleventh chapter, Heroes, we collect speeches by Nelson Mandela that pay tribute to great leaders of South Africa’s recent past. In these powerful tributes, which often bear the sorrow of loss, we recall Nelson Mandela’s heroic efforts in the ongoing struggle, as the novelist Milan Kundera put it, of memory against forgetting.

Looking towards a sustainable future, Nelson Mandela has been active, since his presidency, in international peace building. The twelfth chapter, Peace, collects speeches that demonstrate the depths of Nelson Mandela’s commitment to sustainable peace in the global arena. Beginning with his address for the ceremony marking his Nobel Peace Prize, the chapter contains his speeches before the United Nations, during his presidency, as he sought to apply the lessons learned in the South African transition to international relations. Subsequently, as Kofi Annan observed, Nelson Mandela’s ongoing commitment to international peace building has continued to inspire people all over the world.

The speeches of this book, which range over 50 years from the middle of the twentieth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, show how the world was changing while Nelson Mandela was changing the world.

Unfortunately, some things do not seem to have changed.The first speech of this collection, delivered in 1951, could have been delivered today. Speaking to a meeting of the ANC in the Transvaal, now Gauteng Province, Nelson Mandela warned of forces in the world, waging military and psychological warfare, which was designed to incapacitate people, through fear, so they could not think. Those global forces, he observed, were ‘determined to perpetuate a permanent atmosphere of crisis and fear in the world. Knowing that a frightened world cannot think clearly, these groups attempt to create conditions under which the common men might be inveigled into supporting the building of more and more atomic bombs, bacterio-logical weapons, and other instruments of mass destruction.’ However, the common people, he argued, were struggling to make history under these conditions, but on their own terms, by defying global forces of oppression in their determination for sustainable peace.

Over 50 years later, in 2003, Nelson Mandela issued a similar warning, in this case advising US President George W Bush against adopting a military policy that created a climate of fear, undermined the United Nations, and threatened to lead the world into a ‘holocaust’.

Let us say that throughout all of these engagements Nelson Mandela has been irrepressible. Consistently, as the speeches in this book demonstrate, he has been irrepressibly committed to liberation from all forms of repression, locally and globally, which wage war against the inalienable human right, and human impetus, to be free.

On the long walk to freedom, we have all been privileged to walk alongside Nelson Mandela.



Few politicians in the history of the world have attracted such widespread veneration as is now bestowed on the figure of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.This is all the more remarkable in an age when technology and the ubiquitous media ensure hardly a breath is taken by an international figure that is not instantly captured and critiqued. But, in spite of the attention of the world in the 13 years since he walked free from prison and the rigours of accepting the presidency of what was one of the globe’s most divided nations, Mandela’s reputation remains as impressive as it is unsullied.

Mandela has become synonymous with the triumph of the human spirit. His name will forever speak of his capacity for suffering, of victory over adversity, of patience, forgiveness and a steadfast, iron-clad conviction that principles will always endure. The qualities of character, courage, humility and compassion that are personified in Mandela have granted him an authentic, contemporary moral authority. He is, in the words of his official biographer Anthony Sampson,‘a universal hero’.

Like so many heroes, Mandela’s origins are to be found in the humblest of circumstances. On the day of his birth, 18 July 1918, his home in the village of Mvezo in what is now South Africa’s Eastern Cape province consisted of three mud huts: one for sleeping, one for cooking and one for storing food. Each of the huts had been crafted by the hands of his mother, Nosekeni Fanny, from earth moulded into bricks. In the living hut, which Mandela shared with his two sisters, chairs and cupboards were made from earth.There were no beds or tables.The family slept on mats.The roof was made of bundles of dried grass tied together with rope.


On Sale
Jun 12, 2018
Page Count
608 pages

Nelson Mandela

About the Author

Nelson Mandela was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, president of South Africa, president of the African National Congress, and leader of the anti-apartheid movement

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