Nelson Mandela’s speeches reveal a great deal about his political ideologies, the people who gave him inspiration and his character. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he paid tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When he was released from prison, Mandela didn’t simply thank his supporters but urged them to continue the fight against apartheid. Get to know more about Mandela’s political philosophy with this list of excerpts from his well-known speeches.
Racial Bias in the Justice System (1962)
Nelson Mandela’s opening statements at a Pretoria court in 1962 revealed that he thought the South African justice system was designed to benefit whites and disadvantage blacks. In the 21st century, blacks across the worldecho these sentiments. “It is fit and proper to raise the question sharply, what is this rigid colour-bar in the administration of justice?” Mandela asked. “Why is it that in this courtroom I face a white magistrate, am confronted by a white prosecutor, and escorted into the dock by a white orderly? Can anyone honestly and seriously suggest that in this type of atmosphere the scales of justice are evenly balanced?
Why is it that no African in the history of this country has ever had the honour of being tried by his own kith and kin, by his own flesh and blood? I will tell Your Worship why: the real purpose of this rigid colour-bar is to ensure that the justice dispensed by the courts should conform to the policy of the country, however much that policy might be in conflict with the norms of justice accepted in judiciaries throughout the civilised world.”
The Inevitability of Violence (1964)
Nelson Mandela gave one of themost memorable speechesagainst apartheid on April 20, 1964. He was 45 years old at the time and had been jailed for two years for organizing a strike, but he appeared in court again after South African authorities arrested 19 leaders of the African National Congress, the anti-apartheid group with which Mandela was affiliated. In the speech, Mandela discusses the decision anti-apartheid activists in the ANC offshoot group Umkhonto made to engage in violence, a strategy he described as “inevitable.”
“I, and the others who started the organization [Umkhonto], did so for two reasons,” Mandela said.
“Firstly, we believed that as a result of government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.”
Just a month after delivering the speech from the dock of a Pretoria courtroom, Mandela would be sentenced to life in prison. He served 27 years of the sentence before his release in 1990.
Renewing The Fight (1990)
Immediately after his release from prison in February 1990, Nelson Mandela called upon his supporters to double down on their fight against inequality. “The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts,” he said. “It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured. We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid. Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters’ roll in a united, democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.” In 1994 Mandela voted for the first time. He also became South Africa’s first black president.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (1993)
Three years after serving 27 years of a life sentence, Nelson Mandela won theNobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech on Dec. 10., 1993, Mandela not only paid tribute to other civil rights activists, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he made note of the millions of unknown activists who also fought for racial equality.
“We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people,” Mandela said. “I am also here today as a representative of the millions of people across the globe, the anti-apartheid movement, the governments and organisations that joined with us, not to fight against South Africa as a country or any of its peoples, but to oppose an inhuman system and sue for a speedy end to the apartheid crime against humanity. These countless human beings, both inside and outside our country, had the nobility of spirit to stand in the path of tyranny and injustice, without seeking selfish gain. They recognised that an injury to one is an injury to all and therefore acted together in defense of justice and a common human decency.”