25 Life-Changing Nelson Mandela Quotes To Celebrate What Would Have Been His 100th Birthday

The late South African President was one of the most revered activists and humanitarians ever.

Nelson Mandela is considered one of the greatest leaders in modern history, and continues to be one of the most known and beloved figures in politics, activism, and humanitarian work. 

He passed away at the age of 95 in December of 2013, but today, July 13, 2018 marks what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. To celebrate, we’ve gathered some of his most inspirational quotes that both motivate us, and make us remember how far we’ve come — and how far we still have to go.

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Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in a small village known as Mvezo in South Africa. In his youth, he became an activist against South Africa’s racist apartheid system that segregated South Africa’s black and white populations. 

In 1942, Mandela joined the African National Congress and within that helped form the African National Congress Youth League, who took part in boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, and refusals of cooperation in order to peacefully protest the racist policies of the South African government

This continued for 20 years until 1962 when Nelson Mandela was sent to prison after organizing a political strike, where he remained for 27 years until 1990. 

He may have been in prison, but that didn’t stop him from working toward bigger goals. During his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela earned a  Bachelor of Law degree through a correspondence program with the University of London. 

While in prison, he also remained such a strong symbol for the anti-apartheid movement that there were attempts to help him escape as much as there were attempts from the South African government to try and silence him. 


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After his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside South African President de Klerk.

It was in 1994 that South Africa held it’s first proper democratic elections in which Nelson Mandela was elected as the nation’s first black President. 

He served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. During his presidency, he continued to help dismantle racial injustice throughout the country and strengthen the South African economy by providing jobs, housing, and healthcare.

Following his Presidency, Mandela continued to engage in philanthropic work that raised money for schools and clinics, and he also joined other world leaders in working to find solutions for global problems. 

He is one of the most revered figures in modern history and in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday today, here are 25 of his greatest — the best Nelson Mandela quotes ever.


1. None of us is perfect.

“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” — Nelson Mandela


2. She should all have hope for a better tomorrow.

“I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.” — Nelson Mandela


3. Aim high.

“It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.” —​ Nelson Mandela


4. Do the best with what you have.

“It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” —​ Nelson Mandela 


5. Perspective is everything.

“Where you stand depends on where you sit.” —​ Nelson Mandela


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6. Aim for greatness.

“Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” —​ Nelson Mandela


7. Live your best life.

“Tread softly, Breathe peacefully, Laugh hysterically.” —​ Nelson Mandela


8. Don’t judge me.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” —​ Nelson Mandela


9. What’s the point of resentment?

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” —​ Nelson Mandela


10. Stand strong in your beliefs.

“Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” —​ Nelson Mandela


11. Be courageous and unafraid.

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” —​ Nelson Mandela


12. Rise from the ashes.

“Difficulties break some men but make others.” —​ Nelson Mandela


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13. Get back up and try again.

“The greatest glory in living lies in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” —​ Nelson Mandela


14. We are all ordinary, and destined for greatness.

“I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.” —​ Nelson Mandela


15. You are in charge of your life.

“I am the captain of my soul.” —​ Nelson Mandela


16. Can you conquer your fears and take charge of your life?

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” —​ Nelson Mandela


17. No time is the RIGHT time. Now is as good as ever.

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


18. Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’.

“It always seems impossible until its done.” —​ Nelson Mandela


19. Always have your head high and look the world straight in the eye.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” —​ Nelson Mandela


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20. Because if you smile, you make life more beautiful.

“Appearances matter — and remember to smile.” —​ Nelson Mandela


21. What is freedom? The power to live as one wishes.

“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” —​ Nelson Mandela


22. Hold your enemies close.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” —​ Nelson Mandela


23. Do the right thing.

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” —​ Nelson Mandela


24. No beauty shines brighter than that of a good heart.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” — Nelson Mandela


25. Don’t define your world in the black and white, because so much is hiding amongst the greys.

“Nothing is black or white.” —​ Nelson Mandela


RELATED: 40 Quotes From Men About Women, Women’s Rights & Feminism


If you’re looking for a little inspiration, we’ve got the best quotes to share and savor. For quotes from the most inspiring celebs, activists, and poets, look no further! You might even find the quote that motivates the best parts of your life (and love!) forever.


Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and Michigan native. When she’s not writing, Jill enjoys Zumba class, travel, and referencing classic Seinfeld episodes.

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