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Nelson Mandela, South Africa's president, arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday, Oct. 1, 1994 in New York.
J. Kirk Condyles/AP
Citizenship

23 Nelson Mandela Quotes That Remind Us Ending Poverty Is Possible


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Nelson Mandela fought injustice his entire life, and his words resonate profoundly today as the United Nations strives to eliminate global poverty through its Global Goals. You can join us in taking action on these issues here and learn about Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100 here.

Nelson Mandela’s words have been read, analyzed, celebrated, and memorialized for decades.

They’re engraved on statues, recited in classrooms, and strung across banners. And they’ve been culled from decades of intense thought.

During his early years as a lawyer and activist, Mandela spoke with a sharp, revolutionary fervor against the brutal oppression of apartheid. Later, stuck in solitary confinement for nearly three decades, his letters pondered the pursuit of justice, reflecting the slow-drip of time and the anticipated omissions of a censor.

And then when he became the human rights champion who toppled apartheid, his speeches were aflame with hope, rising beyond South Africa to dream of an end to poverty and injustice everywhere.

Take Action: Sign the Year of Mandela Declaration and Be the Generation to End Extreme Poverty

Recently, hundreds of previously unreleased letters from his time in prison have been published, offering new ways to think about Mandela.

Together with the rest of his body of work and recorded messages, they primarily show a man of unwavering conviction, compelled by the twin ideas of justice and compassion. But they also humanize Mandela, showing a person who missed his family and struggled with loneliness.

Mandela was born 100 years ago and for his centennial, Global Citizen is going to South Africa for the Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, in proud partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, to call on world leaders to commit to ending the various causes and consequences of extreme poverty.

We’ll be continuing his fight for equality, justice, and peace. And, like millions before us, we’ll be looking to his words for inspiration.

Read More: Learn More About Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100

Here's a roundup of quotes from Mandela that guide our mission.


1. “Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times — times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry, and wealth accumulation — that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.”

— Speaking to a crowd at London's Trafalgar Square in 2005 for the “Make Poverty History” campaign.


2. “Millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved, and in chains. They are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.


3. “As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.

Nelson Mandela mural 2Image: Flickr: Linh Nguyen


4. “Remember that hope is a powerful weapon even when all else is lost.”

— A letter sent to his wife, Winnie, while he was incarcerated in 1969.


5. “If calamities had the weight of physical objects we should long have been crushed down, or else, we should by now have been hunchbacked, unsteady on our feet, and with faces full of gloom and utter despair. Yet my entire body throbs with life and is full of expectations. Each day brings a fresh stock of experiences and new dreams.”

— A letter sent to his wife, Winnie, while incarcerated in 1970.


6. “It’s a good thing to help a friend whenever you can; but individual acts of hospitality are not the answer. Those who want to wipe out poverty from the face of the earth must use other weapons, weapons other than kindness.”

— A letter sent to his son Makgatho while incarcerated in 1970.


7. “I am convinced that floods of personal disaster can never drown a determined revolutionary nor can the cumulus of misery that accompanies tragedy suffocate him.”

— From a prison letter.

Nelson Mandela.jpg


8. “A good pen can also remind us of the happiest moments in our lives, bring noble ideas into our dens, our blood & our souls. It can turn tragedy into hope & victory.”

— From a prison letter.


9. “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.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.


10. “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.


11. “While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.


12. “Do not look the other way; do not hesitate. Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.


13. “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.

Nelson-Mandela-South-Africa.jpgAfrican National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, before a forum on Feb. 25, 1994.
Image: David Brauchli/AP


14. "I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free." 
— February, 1985. Remark quoted in "A Part of My Soul Went With Him" by Winnie Mandela


15. “Of course the task will not be easy. But not to do this would be a crime against humanity, against which I ask all humanity now to rise up.”

— London's Trafalgar Square in 2005.

Nelson Mandela illustrationImage: Flickr: Tomorrow


16. “When people are determined they can overcome anything.”

— From a conversation with actor Morgan Freeman in 2006.


17. "The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days."

— June 1961


18. "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."

— Prison letter to Winnie Mandela in 1975.


19. "Since my release, I have become more convinced than ever that the real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom."

— From the documentary The Struggle is My Life in 1990.

Nelson-Mandela.jpgAfrican National Congress President Nelson Mandela addresses the Committee Against Apartheid in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, Sept. 24, 1993.
Image: Marty Lederhandler/AP


20. "A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference.”

— February 1994


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

— From his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom in 1995.


22. “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.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."

— From the autobiography Long Walk to Freedom in 1995.


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

— Address by Mandela at launch of Mindset Network in July 2003.


The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.

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