Nelson Mandela lived a life marked by extremes, from the depths of prison, to the heights of the South African Presidency. He helped change a nation, and in so doing, helped change the world.
Mandela was born and raised in South Africa. In 1944 he saw the National Party, the white-only government, establish apartheid, a system of racial segregation that gave privilege to whites. Mandela became an activist and protester against the government and its racist policies.
In 1962 Mandela was arrested, tried and found guilty for political offenses and conspiring to overthrow the government. He was sentenced to life in prison.
While in prison the world took notice of the racial injustice of apartheid, against which Mandela continued to be a strong voice. After 27 years in prison, with the world watching, Mandela was released from prison. He and F. W. de Klerk, the President of South Africa, negotiated an end to apartheid and agreed to establish a multiracial democratic election.
The election took place in 1994 and Nelson Mandela was elected, becoming the first black head of state, and first person elected in a fully representative democratic election in South Africa. His government established a new constitution for South Africa, dismantled apartheid, and emphasized reconciliation between the country’s racial groups.
For his lifelong work to bring equality to the people of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The lessons he learned through a life of such tribulation and triumph are many. Below are some of Mandela’s insightful words of wisdom.
“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.”
“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”
“Do no judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
“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.”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“I am fundamentally an optimist… Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. 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 lays defeat and death.”
“One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
“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.”
“It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.”
“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.”