In His Own Words
1. On His Opposition To Apartheid
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African 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 and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Statement at the opening of his defence in the Rivonia treason trial, April 20, 1964.
2. On His decision To Take Up Arms Against Apartheid
“I and some colleagues came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be wrong and unrealistic for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle.” – Statement at the opening of his defence in the Rivonia treason trial, April 20, 1964.
3. On South Africa Attaining Democracy
“We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.” – Speech at his inauguration as South African president in Pretoria, May 10, 1994.
4. On Racism
“Racism is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.” – Address to the UK’s Joint Houses of Parliament, July 11, 1996.
5. On Apartheid Rule:
“We are extricating ourselves from a system that insulted our common humanity by dividing us from one another on the basis of race and setting us against each other as oppressed and oppressor. That system committed a crime against humanity.” – Speech in Pretoria upon receipt of a report from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which investigated apartheid-era atrocities, October 29, 1998.
6. On his government’s achievements during his five years as president
“We have laid the foundation for a better life. Things that were unimaginable a few years ago have become everyday reality. I belong to the generation of leaders for whom the achievement of democracy was the defining challenge.” – Speech to parliament in Cape Town, March 26, 1999.
8. On HIV/AIDS
“HIV/AIDS is the greatest danger we have faced for many, many centuries. HIV/AIDS is worse than a war. It is like a world war. Millions of people are dying from it.” – Statement issued in Johannesburg, December 1, 2000.
10. On South Africa, a decade after the fall of apartheid
“Today we are a nation at peace with itself, united in our diversity, not only proclaiming but living out the contention that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. We take our place amongst the nations of the world, confident and proud in being an African country.” – Lecture in Cape Town, September 10, 2004.
11. 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. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” – Speech delivered in Johannesburg, July 2, 2005.
12. On human solidarity
“As the years progress one increasingly realises the importance of friendship and human solidarity. And if a 90-year-old may offer some unsolicited advice on this occasion, it would be that you, irrespective of your age, should place human solidarity, the concern for the other, at the centre of the values by which you live.” – Lecture in Kliptown, Soweto, July 12, 2008.