Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words
By Dr A. Khan
Chicago, IL


During the past seven decades, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 –December 5, 2013), through his words and actions, has become a global icon of courage, hope and reconciliation. His struggle against apartheid has made him a champion of freedom and humanity. In the Words of Nelson Mandela , presents a collection of Mandela’s comments and opinions on a vast array of subjects that include humanity, peace, friendship, freedom, reconciliation, education, colonialism, apartheid, history, and leadership. The book is edited by Jennifer Crwys-Williams.

Recalling his childhood, Mandela says, “When I was a boy brought up in my village in the Transkei, I listened to the elders of the tribe telling stories about the good old days, before the arrival of the white man. I hoped and vowed then that, among the treasures that life might offer me, would be the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to the freedom struggle. The elders would tell us about the liberation and how it was fought by our ancestors in defense of our country, as well as the acts of valor performed by generals and soldiers during those epic days.”


Explaining how he got the name “Nelson,” Mandela recalled, “No one in my family had ever attended school…On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea."

Mandela played a pivotal role in organizing the African National Congress (ANC) . Commenting on the role the ANC played in the struggle against apartheid, Mandela, observed, “We must move from the position of a resistance movement to one of builders…For us the struggle against racism has assumed the proportions of a crusade… The African National Congress is the greatest achievement of the twentieth century." During his struggle against the apartheid, Mandela said in 1964, "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. 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."

Mandela served 27 years in prison; he was the famous inmate of cell 30 at Robben Island . Recalling the time he spent in prison, Mandela said, “Nothing is more dehumanizing than isolation from human companionship….There I had time to just sit for hours and think.”


Explaining the nature of apartheid , Mandela observe, “ Apartheid is the rule of the gun and the hangman. Apartheid itself was a war against the people…The universal struggle against apartheid was not an act of charity arising out of pity for our people, but an affirmation of our common humanity….Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.” And about freedom, Mandela said, “There is no easy walk to freedom….Too many have suffered for the love of freedom….Only free men can negotiate.“

Regarding his aspirations for Africa, Mandela, said, The peoples of resurgent Africa are perfectly capable of deciding upon their own future form of government and discovering and themselves dealing with any dangers which might arise…Africa, more than any other continent, has had to contend with the consequences of conquest in a denial of its own role in history, including the denial that its people had the capacity to bring about change and progress. For centuries, an ancient continent has bled from many gaping sword wounds…It would be a cruel irony of history if Africa's actions to regenerate the continent were to unleash a new scramble for Africa which, like that of the nineteenth century, plundered the continent's wealth and left it once more the poorer…. No doubt Africa's renaissance is at hand - and our challenge is to steer the continent through the tide of history…The people of the continent are eager and willing to be among the very best in all areas of endeavor.” Commenting on Islam in Africa, Mandela observed, “Islam has enriched and become part of Africa, in turn, Islam was transformed and Africa became part of it.”

Commenting on Colonialism , Mandela said, “Through force, fraud and violence, the people of North, East, West, Central and Southern Africa were relieved of their political and economic power and forced to pay allegiance to foreign monarchs. The resistance of the black man to white colonial intrusion was crushed by the gun…In all we do, we have to ensure the healing of the wounds inflicted on all our people across the great dividing line imposed on our society by centuries of colonialism and apartheid….The nineteenth-century colonization of the African continent was in many respects the culmination of the Renaissance-initiated expansion of European dominion over the planet.” And about imperialism , Mandela remarked, “Imperialism means the denial of political and economic rights and the perpetual subjugation of the people by a foreign power. Imperialism has been weighed and found wanting.”

Discussing the role of compromise, Mandela observed, “That is the nature of compromising: you can compromise on fundamental issues….If you are not prepared to compromise, then you must not enter or think about the process of negotiation at all. Compromise must not undermine your own position.” And on building alliances, Mandela felt, “No true alliance can be built on the shifting sands of evasions, illusions and opportunism.”

Emphasizing the importance of education, Mandela said, “Parents have the right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Make every home, every shack or rickety structure a center of learning.” And about children, Mandela said, “Children are the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures…The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are testimony to an unfinished job. There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children… One of my greatest pleasures is to sit down with my children and listen to them, to listen to their hopes and aspirations and helping them to grow.”

Explaining the nature of anger, Mandela said, “Anger is a temporary feeling - you soon forget it, particularly if you are involved in positive activities and attitudes. It is not easy to remain bitter if one is busy with constructive things.”

Expounding on history, Mandela observed, “History punishes those who resort to force and fraud to suppress the claims and legitimate aspirations of the majority of the country's citizens. History shows that penalties do not deter men when their conscience is aroused.” Commenting on the genocide in Bosnia , Mandela felt, “They [the leaders] thought through their blood and not through their brains.”

Discussing his heroes, Mandela said, “Muhammed Ali was an inspiration to me even in prison because I thought of his courage and commitment. He used mind and body in unison and achieved success.” About his favorite things, Mandela observed, “My favorite animal is the impala because it is alert, curious, rapid and able to get out of difficult conditions easily - and with grace.”

Expounding on the traits and nature of leadership, Mandela said, “It is a mistake to think that a single individual can unite the country…When leaders have the honesty to criticize their own mistakes and their own organization, then they can criticize others…A leadership commits a crime against its own people if it hesitates to sharpen its political weapons which have become less effective…It is no use for a leader to surround himself with yes-men….A leader who relies on authority to solve problems is bound to come to grief….We have the high salaries and we are living in luxury: that destroys our capacity to speak in a forthright manner and tell people to tighten their belts.”

Commenting on his visit to Libya, Mandela remarked, “He [ Muammar Gaddafi , President of Libya] helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who are now saying we should not come here were helping our enemies.”

Expounding on the importance of self-respect, Mandela said, “If you are in harmony with yourself, you may meet a lion without fear, because he respects anyone with self-confidence.”

Discussing his own death , Mandela said, “It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I'd leave that entirely to South Africans. There will be life after Mandela. I would just like a simple stone on which is written, ‘Mandela.’”

Indeed, there is life after Mandela. Hopefully, in the post-Mandela era, apartheid would become a thing of the past at local and global levels. In the words of Nelson Mandela is a unique collection of short quotations on many important topics. It provides insights into the wisdom of Nelson Mandela , one of the great leaders of the twentieth century .



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.