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life and times
Nelson Mandela: photo credit Jurgen Schadeburg

Originally Broadcast May 26, 2004 on CBC-TV


Nelson Mandela is man who went from prisoner to president to world icon. He gave up his freedom to free the people of South Africa from apartheid.

Here are some of his own words about his extraordinary life, excepted from the film Madiba: the life and times of Nelson Mandela.

A young Nelson Mandela burning his passport.


About his opposition to apartheid:
"I had no epiphany. No singular revelation, no moment of truth but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."

"They were like a grave. Beautiful outside, full of evil inside. That is why I despised them, that's why I fought them."

His address at the Rivonia treason trial
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized, but my Lord, if it needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." (Read the entire Rivonia trial speech )

His time on Robben Island:

"I was now on the sidelines but I knew that I would not give up the fight...the racism and repression was the same. Prison conspires to rob each man of his dignity, but that assured my survival because I would not part with my dignity at any price or under any pressure. I never believed that I would die behind bars. I always knew that someday I would walk in the sunshine a free man. I would not and could not give myself up to despair, that way lay defeat and death."

A rare photo of Nelson Mandela taken during his time on Robben Island.


"My solitude gave me a certain liberty. And a resolve to use it to do something I had been pondering for a long while. Begin discussions with the government. It was clear to me a military victory was a distant, impossible dream. It simply did not make sense for both sides to lose thousands if not millions of lives in a conflict that was unnecessary. They must have known this as well. It was time to talk."

Describing the day of his release from prison
"The cameras started clicking like a great herd of metallic beasts. I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy.

On his personal life:
"Perhaps I was blinded to certain things because of the pain I felt for not being able to fulfill my role as husband to my wife and father to my children. It seems the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives ... to be the father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But is was a job I had far too little of."

Nelson Mandela with his first son Tembi (now deceased).


Reconciliation in South Africa:
"I had never lost hope that this great transformation would occur, because I always knew that down deep in every human heart there is mercy and generousity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. If people can learn to hate they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

"If we don't forgive them then that feeling of bitterness and offence will be there. And we are saying let us forget the past. Let's concern ourselves with the present and the future. But to say the atrocities of the past will never be allowed to happen again."

On his life:
"If I had to live again, I would do exactly the same thing, as long as our people are oppressed and deprived of everything to make human beings happy and to enjoy life, it was my duty to be involved and I would do it over and over again."

READ a complete selection of speeches, statements and writings of Nelson Mandela at the ANC website. More

READ excerpts from Nelson Mandela's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom. More

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On life and times, Wednesday May 26 at 8PM on CBC-TV
Repeated on The Passionate Eye Sunday, July 4 at 10PM ET/PT on CBC Newsworld

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