Posted on July 20, 2008


Out of his ninety years, twenty-seven were spent in prison. Yet he emerged as leader of his people who were themselves collectively imprisoned in their own country for forty-six years.

“In my country we go to prison first and then become President.”

What was the likelihood of this happening? Yet it did happen this way. And the world could only watch in wonder and admiration which lingers till this present day. Individuals and countries draw hope and courage from this amazing story of one human being’s “LONG WALK TO FREEDOM”.

In his long journey and mission, he stood his ground and remained steadfast in his philosophy when time and again he was made to face the powers that be.

“Whatever the sentence Your Worship sees fit to impose upon me for the crime for which I have been convicted before this court may it rest assured that when my sentence has been completed, I will still be moved as men are always moved, by their conscience. I will still be moved by my dislike of the race discrimination against my people. When I come out from serving my sentence, I will take up again, as best I can, the struggle for the removal of those injustices until they are finally abolished.”

“The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future, and our freedom.”

Freedom was his constant call.

“There is no such thing as part freedom.”

“Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

“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.”

“As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

For this cause, he was prepared to go and to remain in prison. For this cause, he was prepared to die.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the … people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

He could have come out of prison in understandable rage, harbouring thoughts for vengeance. Instead, reconciliation and common destiny was his vision and mission.

“I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all! I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”

He could have heaped the entire blame on just one section of the population. Instead, his message was on equal blame, equal responsibility.

“I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.”

Far from sowing discord, the agenda and tone he set as the nation’s leader is peace and harmony. The way to realise this is education.

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

“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.”

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

And he himself has been the living model of this.

He understood his leadership role.

“I always remember the axiom: 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.”

He promised neither a quick fix nor an easy solution.

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”


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

Posted in: Leadership