10 things Nelson Mandela said that inspire everyone to life a better life

- December 6, 2023 3 MIN READ
Nelson Mandela
A statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: AdobeStock
Today marks a decade since of of the 20th Century’s greatest figures left us. Nelson Mandela died, aged 95, on December 5, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Born into the Thembu royal family in 1918, as Rolihlahla Mandela, he lost his father aged 12, and was given the name Nelson by a primary school teacher. In later life, would be referred to by his traditional Xhosa clan name, Madiba.

Mandela’s political activism saw him expelled from university for taking part in a student protest. He would renounced his claim to his tribe’s chieftainship to become a lawyer, joining the African National Congress (ANC) to fight for black people in 1944. Four years later, the South African government introduced apartheid, which banned Black people from travelling freely around the country and forced them to carry a pass at all times. In 1952, Mandela set up the nation’s first Black law firm, focusing on legal challenges the government’s apartheid laws.

A decade later, with the ANC classed as a terrorist organisation by the South African government (and countries including the US and UK) following violence and bombings, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 1962. He spent 18 of 27 years in jail at Robben Island off Cape Town, before being freed in February 1990.

Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and in May 1994 became South Africa’s first elected president, serving until 1999.

His autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1995), is an inspiring read and his words have offered advice, wisdom and comfort for many.

One should be the motto of every startup founder:  “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Another we always keen in mind is: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Here are 10 things Nelson Mandela said that continue to inspire all to lead a good life.

1. “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.”

2. “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.” (Long Walk to Freedom).

3. “When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?” (Norway, 2005, discussing AIDS).

4. “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” (Letter to cricketer Makhaya Ntini on his 100th test in 2009).

5. “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.”
(At Walter Sisulu’s 90th birthday, 2002).

6. “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.” (Long Walk to Freedom).

7. “I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” (Unpublished autobiography, 1975).

8. “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. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” (Make Poverty History campaign, 2005).

9. “You sharpen your ideas by reducing yourself to the level of the people you are with, and a sense of humour and a complete relaxation, even when you’re discussing serious things, does help to mobilise friends around you.” (Mandela: The Authorised Portrait, 2006).

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