Nelson Mandela was not a saint, by his own admission.

Nelson Mandela, apartheid, South Africa

source: Agência Brasil

His first wife divorced him because of his adulteries.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 but in the early sixties he advocated violent struggle.

And although he publicly preached forgiveness, he once let go and gave former South African President FW de Klerk a serve at the Nobel dinner after the award ceremony was over.

He was essentially human.

Yet he triumphed, personally and politically, against overwhelming odds.

Another man might have been left embittered and defeated after 27 years in prison. Mandela instead emerged victorious, a beacon to ‘sinners’ like himself.

There are things he said and did that forever changed the way I looked at the world, and at life. You might like to keep them on your wall, as a daily inspiration, as I have pinned them on mine. 

1. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the 
triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, 
but he who conquers that fear.

2. There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

 3. It always seems impossible until its done.

4. 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.

5. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature
 or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s
 head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were
 many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but
 I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays
 defeat and death.” 
— from his autobiography: 'The Long Walk to Freedom.'

 6. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in
rising every time we fall.”

7. “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp 
enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed 
with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” 
— From a letter to Winnie Mandela, 1975

8. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill
your enemies.”

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

10. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my
freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind,
I’d still be in prison.”

11. I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who 
keeps on trying.”

12. One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that
until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

13. “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

14. Nothing is black or white.”

15. "Quitting is leading too.”

16. I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”

Hamba Kahle, Madibe. Thank you for a life of such great inspiration.
"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."

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. Sinner or saint, Nelson Mandela was a remarkable man. Thanks for listing these extraordinary quotes as a reminder. Yes, I plan on posting on my bulletin board.

  2. Cate Russell-Cole says:

    Well said Colin. For anyone to survive to 95 after the conditions he lived through is remarkable. He will be sadly missed, but I am happy for him to be out of pain. The last months have been horrific for him.

  3. Thanks Colin, Well said.
    Have reblogged this…
    “Won” NaNoWriMo last month, half of next novel’s done!
    Thanks again,

  4. Reblogged this on Lizzi Tremayne, Writer and commented:
    Yep.. Thanks Colin Falconer, for a great post. Thought you all might like to see this.

  5. Squizz says:

    Regrettably many of these quotes were not those of Nelson Mandela but of other famous people. He may have echoed their sentiments, but he did not necessarily write these words.

  6. violafury says:

    Colin, Nelson Mandela lived a remarkable life and one of the things I found so amazing in his compassion and empathy was during the reconciliation process, the people came together and without bloodshed, a country that had been torn apart over race and color was healed. The passing of someone like Mr. Mandela is always sad, but to have had him here at all was a grace, I think. He is one of those rare individuals, like Muhammad Ali, who make me glad to be a member of the human race. I cannot say that about every one. Thank you and I will be reblogging this tomorrow.

  7. violafury says:

    Colin, I re-posted your fine post on a Word Press blog that I maintain and occasionally post on and that people read, for some strange reason. Here is the link: . I also should have mentioned that I finished NaNo on 11/29/2013 with 50,971 words. It’s a “hot mess” but an entertaining one! Now for the editing stage. xoxo

  8. Colin, I enjoyed your clarification of extraordinary. Too often we want our heroes to be saints, more to assuage our fears about life than to honor them. We want to believe in an easy, trouble free way. Nelson Mandela showed us all a much truer picture of what life asks of us if we intend not to ultimately sway from our dreams and what we know to be true. It’s a gift of a lesson from a man who truly knew.

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