83 Life-Changing Nelson Mandela Quotes To Celebrate What Would Have Been His 102nd Birthday

Quotes

Nelson Mandela is considered one of the greatest leaders in modern history and continues to be one of the most known and beloved figures in politics, activism, and humanitarian work — the Nelson Mandela quotes below about peace and equality prove just that. 

He passed away at the age of 95 in December of 2013, but Nelson Mandela Day on July 18, 2020 marks what would have been Nelson Mandela's 102nd birthday. To celebrate, we've gathered some of his most inspirational quotes that both motivate us, and make us remember how far we've come — and how far we still have to go.

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Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in a small village known as Mvezo in South Africa. In his youth, he became an activist against South Africa's racist apartheid system that segregated South Africa's black and white populations. 

In 1942, Mandela joined the African National Congress and within that helped form the African National Congress Youth League, who took part in boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, and refusals of cooperation in order to peacefully protest the racist policies of the South African government

This continued for 20 years until 1962 when Nelson Mandela was sent to prison after organizing a political strike, where he remained for 27 years until 1990. 

He may have been in prison, but that didn't stop him from working toward bigger goals. During his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela earned a  Bachelor of Law degree through a correspondence program with the University of London. 

While in prison, he also remained such a strong symbol for the anti-apartheid movement that there were attempts to help him escape as much as there were attempts from the South African government to try and silence him. 

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After his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside South African President de Klerk.

It was in 1994 that South Africa held it's first proper democratic elections in which Nelson Mandela was elected as the nation's first black President. 

He served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. During his presidency, he continued to help dismantle racial injustice throughout the country and strengthen the South African economy by providing jobs, housing, and healthcare.

Following his Presidency, Mandela continued to engage in philanthropic work that raised money for schools and clinics, and he also joined other world leaders in working to find solutions for global problems. 

He is one of the most revered figures in modern history and in honor of Nelson Mandela's birthday, here are some of his greatest — the best Nelson Mandela quotes ever.

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

2. "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."

3. "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."

4. "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."

5. "She should all have hope for a better tomorrow."

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

7. "Live life as though nobody is watching, and express yourself as though everyone is listening."

8. "Aim high."

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

10. "One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself."

11. "Do the best with what you have."

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

13. "As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

14. "Perspective is everything."

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

16. "One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others."

17. "Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end."

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18. "Aim for greatness."

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

20. "Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do."

21. “Tread softly, Breathe peacefully, Laugh hysterically.” 

22. "Fools multiply when wise men are silent."

23. "A winner is a dreamer who never gives up."

24. "Where you stand depends on where you sit."

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

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

27. "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

28. "A Nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it's lowest ones."

29. "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 here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended."

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

31. "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."

32. "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."

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

34. "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."

35. “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” 

36. "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

37. "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."

38. "Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."

39. "As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility."

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

41. "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

42. "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."

43. "People respond in accordance to how you treat them."

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

45. "A winner is a dreamer who never gives up."

46. "When people are determined they can overcome anything."

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47. “The greatest glory in living lies in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 

48. "You can start changing our world for the better daily, no matter how small the action."

49. "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."

50. "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."

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

52. "It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones."

53. "I never lose. I either win or learn."

54. "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."

55. “I am the captain of my soul.” 

56. "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."

57. "Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon."

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

59. "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” 

60. "I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. 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."

61. "There can be no greater gift than that of giving one’s time and energy to help others without expecting anything in return."

62. "Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings."

63. “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” 

64. "While poverty persists, there is no true freedom"

65. "Sometimes, it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."

66. “It always seems impossible until its done.” 

67. "It always seems impossible until it’s done."

68. "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies."

69. "Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely daydreaming, but vision with action can change the world."

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

71. "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."

72. "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."

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73. "The greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall."

74. "Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."

75. “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” 

76. "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. 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."

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

78. "Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished."

79. "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

80. “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

81. “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” 

82. "Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front."

83. “Nothing is black or white.” 

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Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and Michigan native. When she's not writing, Jill enjoys Zumba class, travel, and referencing classic Seinfeld episodes.