150 Nelson Mandela Quotes

Looking for inspirational Nelson Mandela quotes about freedom, equality, and leadership? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Our collection features 150 of his most famous quotes that will give you an idea about the kind of life Nelson Mandela lived and how he became known as a symbol to rally behind for the oppressed minority in South Africa who were fighting for their rights.

If you want to know more about these topics, continue to the list below.

Best Nelson Mandela Quotes

Nelson Mandela Quotes - It always seems impossible until it's done.Pin

1. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

2. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.”

3. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

4. “Lead from the back and let others believe they are in front.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on CouragePin

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

6. “The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

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

8. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

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

Nelson Mandela Quotes - A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination.Pin

10. “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”

11. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

12. “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

13. “Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

14. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on FreedomPin

15. “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way.”

16. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

17. “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.”

18. “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.”

19. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity. It is an act of justice.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on PovertyPin

20. “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on Peace and Equality

21. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

22. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

23. “Freedom is indivisible. The chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them; the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”

24. “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all. Let each know that for each, the body, the mind, and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere.Pin

25. “There is no easy 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 mountaintop of our desires.”

26. “I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A person does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards.”

27. “We owe our children—the most vulnerable citizens in any society—a life free from violence and fear.”

28. “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a point, one can only fight fire with fire.”

29. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom.Pin

30. “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.”

31. “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners can’t enter into contracts.”

32. “The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free—the right not to be oppressed.”

33. “The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”

34. “I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - There is no such thing as part freedom.Pin

35. “There is no such thing as part freedom.”

36. “A child is born free.”

37. “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned?”

38. “We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom.”

39. “The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I cherish my own freedom dearly.Pin

40. “I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom.”

41. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

42. “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.”

43. “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.Pin

45. “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”

46. “Peace is the greatest weapon for development that any person can have.”

47. “No single person can liberate a country. You can only liberate a country if you act as a collective.”

48. “Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going.”

49. “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I shall stick to our vow.Pin

50. “I shall stick to our vow—never, never under any circumstances, to say anything unbecoming of the other.”

51. “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

52. “Although I am a gregarious person, I love solitude even more.”

53. “Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.”

54. “Politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on InjusticePin

55. “We fought injustice wherever we found it, no matter how large or how small; and we fought injustice to preserve our own humanity.”

56. “All remained loyal to him, not because they always agreed with him, but because the regent listened to and respected different opinions.”

57. “If I had my time, over I would do the same again; so would any man who dares call himself a man.”

58. “Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, class, caste or any other social markers of difference.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on Leadership and Governance

59. “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Quitting is leading too.Pin

60. “Quitting is leading too.”

61. “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.”

62. “For a revolution is not just a question of pulling a trigger; its purpose is to create a fair and just society.”

63. “Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.”

64. “As a leader, one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man.Pin

65. “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

66. “There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.”

67. “Let your courage rise with danger.”

68. “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.”

69. “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I have fought against white domination.Pin

70. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.”

71. “To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy.”

72. “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”

73. “There was no particular day on which I said, ‘Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people.’ Instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”

74. “Nothing is black or white.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children.Pin

75. “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

76. “Know your enemy—and learn about his favorite sport.”

77. “Once a person is determined to help themselves, there is nothing that can stop them.”

78. “I could not imagine that the future I was walking toward could compare in any way to the past that I was leaving behind.”

79. “Success in politics demands that you must take your people into confidence about your views and state them very clearly, very politely, very calmly; but nevertheless, state them openly.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - The oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.Pin

80. “I knew, as well as I knew anything, that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

81. “The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

82. “The trouble, of course, is that most successful men are prone to some form of vanity.”

83. “Resentment is a method of self harm.”

84. “Life has a way of forcing decisions on those who vacillate.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Losing a sense of time is an easy way to lose one's grip.Pin

85. “Losing a sense of time is an easy way to lose one’s grip and even one’s sanity.”

86. “When you are young and strong, you can stay alive on your hatred.”

87. “A blind pursuit of cheap popularity has nothing to do with revolution.”

88. “Violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid.”

89. “I was a young man who attempted to make up for his ignorance with militancy.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Prison is designed to break one's spirit.Pin

90. “Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve.”

91. “The grave plight of the people compels them to resist to the death the stinking policies of the gangsters that rule our country.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on Morals and Goodness of Man

92. “Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

93. “But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle, but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

94. “If wealth is a magnet, poverty is a kind of repellent.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Nonviolence is a good policy when conditions permit.Pin

95. “Nonviolence is a good policy when conditions permit.”

96. “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

97. “I am the captain of my soul.”

98. “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

99. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Appearances matter and remember to smile.Pin

100. “Appearances matter—and remember to smile.”

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

102. “I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”

103. “It is music and dancing that make me at peace with the world.”

104. “I learned that to humiliate another person is to make him suffer an unnecessarily cruel fate.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.Pin

105. “Even as a boy, I defeated my opponents without dishonoring them.”

106. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.”

107. “We forgive, but not forget.”

108. “It was a useful reminder that all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and that if their heart is touched, they are capable of changing.”

109. “I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things, I still had control over, and I decided not to give them away.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on HonestyPin

110. “Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others—qualities which are within reach of every soul—are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.”

111. “Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”

112. “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.”

113. “I am the master of my fate and the captain of my destiny.”

114. “It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

115. “There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status.”

116. “We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

117. “Tread softly. Breathe peacefully. Laugh hysterically.”

118. “Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.”

119. “There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair—that way lies defeat and death.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - People must learn to hate.Pin

120. “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.”

121. “Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

122. “I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on Education and Development

123. “Education is the great engine of personal development.”

124. “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on EducationPin

125. “It reaffirmed my long-held belief that education was the enemy of prejudice. These were men and women of science, and science had no room for racism.”

126. “Sometimes, it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

127. “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

128. “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

129. “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights.Pin

130. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

131. “In my country, we go to prison first and then become President.”

132. “It is not where you start, but how high you aim that matters for success.”

133. “Without language, one cannot talk to people and understand them; one cannot share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs.”

134. “Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - When the water starts boiling, it is foolish to turn off the heat.Pin

135. “When the water starts boiling, it is foolish to turn off the heat.”

136. “I never lose. I either win or learn.”

137. “There are few misfortunes in this world that you cannot turn into a personal triumph if you have the iron will and the necessary skill.”

138. “There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

139. “There comes a stage in their lives when they consider it permissible to be egoistic and to brag to the public at large about their unique achievements.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.Pin

140. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

141. “He knew when to compromise, yet he never compromised his principles. He was a militant, yet a militant who knew how to plan, assess concrete situations, and emerge with rational solutions to problems.”

142. “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road.”

143. “I again realized that we were not different people with separate languages; we were one people, with different tongues.”

144. “Fools multiply when wise men are silent.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes - Try to educate all people, even our enemies.Pin

145. “It was ANC policy to try to educate all people, even our enemies. We believed that all men, even prison service warders, were capable of change, and we did our utmost to try to sway them.”

146. “It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

147. “She married a man who soon left her; that man became a myth; and then that myth returned home and proved to be just a man after all.”

148. “Difficulties break some men but make others.”

149. “Men have different capacities and react differently to stress. But the stronger ones raised up the weaker ones, and both became stronger in the process.”

Nelson Mandela Quotes on Great ThinkingPin

150. “Great thinking comes from a great mind.”

Did These Nelson Mandela Quotes Ignite the Fire Within You?

Everyone has something they want to fight for, and however small or big you think that may be, Nelson Mandela inspires us to keep fighting for the life we deserve to live. He was a great leader who really made a difference in the world. He helped us move toward a world where everyone is treated fairly and equally. And though he had passed, his fire continues to burn—encouraging us to keep moving and to never abandon hope.

What will you do for the things you believe in? Did these quotes from Nelson Mandela encourage you to keep going? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Amy Finn

Hi. I'm Amy, the founder of this blog. I love quotes and enjoy sharing the best ones with you.

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