Economic Growth

Peace, poverty and race: here are some of Nelson Mandela’s wisest words

Demonstrators are seen infront of the Nelson Mandela statue during a Black Lives Matter protest in Parliament Square, following the death of George Floyd who died in police custody in Minneapolis, London, Britain, June 6, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley - RC2S3H9AV1A4

Demonstrators in front of a Nelson Mandela statue in Parliament Square, London, 6 June, 2020. Image: REUTERS/John Sibley

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Since 2009, 18 July is Nelson Mandela International Day.
  • With unrest over race, and COVID-19, his words continue to strike a chord.
  • He called young people to create a brighter future together.

This year’s Nelson Mandela International Day has a particular poignancy. Against a backdrop of protests against racial injustice, and COVID-19 amplifying inequality, his words resonate as much as ever.

Through his work as a human rights lawyer, prisoner of conscience, and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, Mandela has become one of the most recognized peacemakers of our time.

Nelson Mandella
Nelson Mandella Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

In his 95 years he made countless speeches, driving forward global efforts in conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights and social justice.

Here are some of his most inspiring quotes on those issues.

On poverty

“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.”

“The dire poverty of some is not an affliction which impacts only on those who are deprived. It reverberates across the globe and ineluctably impacts negatively on the whole of humanity, including those who live in conditions of comfort and plenty.”

On racism

"The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved."

“We should lay the scourge of racism to rest”.

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On freedom

"Our freedom cannot be complete while others in the world are not free."


“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

Mourners gathered outside Cape Town City Hall when Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013.
Mourners gathered outside Cape Town City Hall when Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013. Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

On peace

“It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”

“Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.”

On making the world a better place

"To the youth of today, I also have a wish to make: Be the script writers of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future."

“Today we should all ask ourselves: What have I done to improve the surroundings in which I live?”

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