The Wisdom of Nelson Mandela

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsOn Thursday, December 5, 2013, the world lost one of its greatest leaders, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who cast off the shackles of apartheid and a 27-year prison term (1963-1990), to become South Africa’s first black president (1994) and emerge as one of the strongest and most respected humanitarians in the modern world. Beyond being a leader for South Africa, Mandela was a passionate and eloquent advocate for global peace, justice, freedom, human dignity, and human rights. Today the heavens shine more brightly with the presence of a new shimmering star, but his conspicuous absence casts a mournful shadow across the world; in the words of fellow social rights activist and close friend, Desmond Tutu: “The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next. … It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on.” Morgan Freeman, who played Mandela in the film Invictus, wrote eloquently about his friend of more than 20 years: “We have lost one of the true giants of the past century. But in our loss is the realization that thanks to him, we have all gained something. For in bringing down the evil of apartheid, Mandela raised us up; his wisdom, his patience, compassion and insistence on reconciliation make us aspire to be better people. In his determination to break from the chains of the past, he allowed us all to join him as the masters of our fate and the captains of our souls. [Mandela’s] journey may be over, but his legacy lives on in all of us.”

Perhaps Mandela’s parents knew that their son was destined for greatness — his given name was Rolihlahla that means “troublemaker.” He was given the name of Nelson (after Horatio Nelson, the British admiral) by a teacher who could not pronounce Mandela’s given name. And throughout his productive life, Mandela definitely lived up to his name — a tireless champion against apartheid and injustice. The apartheid government’s response to this troublemaker was to silence him: Mandela was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela’s imprisonment only added fuel to the fire of reform, and eventually he was released in time to help usher in democracy and peace to his embattled country. In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa,” an award he shared with Frederik Willem de Klerk, who helped release Mandela and brokered the end of apartheid.

Although Mandela is gone, his words live on — to touch, to empower, and to inspire humanity. Bookshelf honors Mandela by recognizing his profound wisdom collected in a treasured book, edited by Sello Hatang and Sham Venter, titled “Notes to the Future: Words of Wisdom.” In a very heartfelt and eloquent introduction Desmond Tutu writes: “The book that you hold in your hand is nothing short of a miracle. The words it contains were denied to the world for almost a four decades… [Through his banishment and imprisonment] Mandela had been all but silenced… The fact that Mandela is now one of at the most quoted people in the world is an extraordinary turnaround and a testament to the fact that the truth cannot be silenced and wisdom cannot be stopped… What happens when the world is confronted by a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa, or a Mandela? We thrill, we admire them, we even get to adore and love them. We recognize their goodness and want to emulate it. We want to quote their words and live by them.” Amen. And now let Mandela’s words ring out…

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

“We come from a people who, because they would not accept to be treated as subhuman, redeemed the dignity of all humanity everywhere.”

“If there is one lesson we can learn from the struggle of racism, in our country as well as yours, it is that racism must consciously combatted, and not discreetly tolerated.”

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind the mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.”

“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.”

“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.”

“The moral decay of some communities in various parts of the world reveals itself among others in the use of the name of God to justify the maintenance of actions which are condemned by the entire world as crimes against humanity.”

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

“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 mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers 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.”

Read related posts: The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
The Wisdom of a Grandmother

For further reading: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Little, Brown and Company (1994)
Nobel: A Century of Prize Winners by Michael Worek, Firefly (2010),0,6266118.story
Time magazine (December 23, 2013 issue)

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