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Nelson Mandela's Most Insightful Quotes

Jul 18 2014 - 3:17am

In honor of the late Nelson Mandela's birthday on Friday, we're taking a look at some of the world leader's most moving quotes from throughout his life. Last December, he passed away [1] at the age of 95 after a long life dedicated to peace and democracy. His work had a significant effect on his country and the world — he was jailed for 27 years as an antiapartheid leader before moving South Africa toward democracy and becoming the country's first black president. Over the years, he inspired many as an international symbol for peace. To celebrate his life and his birthday, take a look at Mandela's wise and thoughtful quotes on family, education, and self-growth.

During a 2001 interview, Nelson Mandela told Oprah [2] what it was like to see his daughters at 2 and 3 and then not again until they were around 16:

"Not seeing them may be why I've developed an obsession with children — I missed seeing any for 27 years. It's one of the most severe punishments prison life can impose, because children are the most important asset in a country."

In 2001, Nelson Mandela told Oprah [3] how he changed his life after time in prison:

"When I reached Johannesburg in the 1940s, I was neglected by my family because I had disappointed them — I'd run away from being forced into an arranged marriage, which was a big blow to them. In Johannesburg, many people were kind to me — but when I finished my studies and qualified as a lawyer, I got busy with politics and never thought of them. It was only when I was in jail that I wondered, 'What happened to so-and-so? Why didn't I go back and say thank you?' I had become very small and had not behaved like a human who appreciates hospitality and support. I decided that if I ever got out of prison, I would make it up to those people or to their children and grandchildren. This is how I was able to change my life — by knowing that if somebody does something good for you, you have to respond."

In 2000, Nelson Mandela told Larry King [4] about his relationship with former President Bill Clinton:

"Bill Clinton and I became friendly long before either of us became president, and he helped me a great deal. . . . I regard him, by the way, as one of the best leaders of the United States of America."

In 1990, Nelson Mandela told ABC [5] that his time in prison had its benefits:

"To spend 27 years at the prime of your life is a tragedy . . . but there are very positive aspects, too, because I had the opportunity to think about problems and to reflect on my mistakes. I also had the opportunity to read very widely, especially biographies, and I could see what men — sometimes from very humble beginnings — were able to lift themselves with their boot strings and become international figures."

In 2001, Nelson Mandela told Oprah [6] what makes a good leader:

"When there is danger, a good leader takes the front line; but when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back of the room."

Nelson Mandela told Larry King [7] in 2000 what it was like to be freed from prison:

"I was thinking, of course, of freedom, that now I'm going to have the opportunity of joining my beloved family, my children, and my people. I am now going to do something creative in order to help to speed up the liberation of my people."

Nelson Mandela told Oprah [8] in 2001 that being humble is most important:

"If you are humble, you are no threat to anybody. Some behave in a way that dominates others. That's a mistake. If you want the cooperation of humans around you, you must make them feel they are important — and you do that by being genuine and humble. You know that other people have qualities that may be better than your own. Let them express them."

Nelson Mandela told Oprah [9] why he values education so much:

"No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. Any nation that is progressive is led by people who have had the privilege of studying. I knew we could improve our lives even in jail. We could come out as different men, and we could come out with two degrees. Educating ourselves was a way to give ourselves the most powerful weapon for freedom. . . . The more informed you are, the less arrogant and aggressive you are."

In 2000, Nelson Mandela told Larry King [10] how it felt to be called a terrorist:

"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. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one."

Nelson Mandela told Larry King [11] in 2000 what he wants the world to think of him:

"That must be left to future generations, because what happens today may not be shared by future generations. So, it's better for us to leave it to others to charge the role which one has played."

In his book Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela [12], he shares his thoughts on freedom:

"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."

In 2001, Nelson Mandela told Oprah [13] that he does not fear death:

"Shakespeare put it very well: 'Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.' When you believe that, you disappear under a cloud of glory. Your name lives beyond the grave — and that is my approach."


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