Marking Mandela's 90th Birthday

Mandela in his own words

Whether talking about his time in prison, his struggle against apartheid, his emergence as a global icon or cracking a joke about his career, Nelson Mandela's words often have a resonance far beyond their original context. Here are a few of his memorable quotes.

Mandela: "In my country we go to prison first and then become President."

  • On his freedom struggle: "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment"

  • On courage: "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

  • On dealing with opponents: "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

  • On racism: "I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man."

  • On negotiating: "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."

  • On leadership: "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership."

  • On education: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

  • On freedom: "Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated."

  • On fame: "That was one of the things that worried me -- to be raised to the position of a semi-god -- because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed."

  • On careers: "In my country we go to prison first and then become President."

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