” I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
The recent loss of Nelson Mandela is heartbreaking to the world. A beacon of hope and peace and the ability to overcome extreme adversity, Nelson Mandela gave hope to all with his public speaking. He had the unique ability to adapt his speech to reach any audience without changing his message, while being passionate and eloquent about the most difficult of topics.
Nelson Mandela was considered a master storyteller, whether around a table or at a podium in front of hundreds of thousands, he could engage and capture the attention of all who listened. Raised to be the next chief of his tribe, he decided to rebel and go to college. After attaining his law degree he joined the ANC (African National Congress Party). He was accused of sabotage and other things due to a labor strike he coordinated. As a result, he served 27 years of a life sentence in jail. While he was imprisoned, he could no longer see his family or work in the African Liberation Movement. Before his imprisonment, he was an impassioned speaker and leader in the movement to stop racial separation in South Africa. Upon his release in 1990, he became the symbol for the Anti-Apartheid Movement, eventually being elected president of South Africa four years after leaving prison.
Nelson Mandela’s full speech after being released from prison.
In those four years before being elected president, he began speaking to the world in his effort to garner support for creating a new South African Government .
When Mandela traveled to the United States, he gave a speech to a huge crowd in New York City’s Harlem area. During this speech he adapted it to include statements about how the struggle in South Africa was similar to the struggle of those in Harlem; linking the two situations through the mutual issues of overcoming economic and social challenges. In Harlem, Mandela spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of over 100,000 supporters who had experienced many of the same sufferings and would appreciate the emotional close to his speech, as they could relate on a very personal level.
Whilst my comrades and I were in prison, we followed closely your own struggle against the injustices of racist discrimination and economic inequality. We were and are aware of the resistance of the people of Harlem and continue to be inspired by your indomitable fighting spirit. I am able to speak to you because of the mass resistance of our people and the unceasing solidarity of millions throughout the world. It is you, the working people of Harlem, that helped make it happen…
In that very same trip, Mandela addressed the United States Congress eloquently and framed his speech in a much more diplomatic manner . He recited the struggles that had been incorporated into the U.S. constitution and aligned that with what he was trying to accomplish in South Africa. . Mandela adopted a more distinguished tone and, used words from the Declaration of Independence, saying that his country “thirsts for the situation where those who are entitled by law to carry arms…will not turn their weapons against the citizens simply because the citizens assert that equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental human rights.”
Mandela spoke to vastly differing segments of the population, saying the same thing in different ways. To the South African press club he cited his fight for freedom of speech. To the mineworkers it was identifying how they worked “deep in the bowels of the nation”. He spoke passionately about oppression to the Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim populations, identifying with each one the ringing truth of freedom. Mandela spoke to British Parliament. Mandela urging Great Britain to use its influence and contacts to assist in the transition to democracy, using Britain’s traditions. The much-used words of one of your great poets, John Donne, speak to what we are trying to say: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
Nelson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and wisdom and for an ever broadening understanding of life. He was very humble and claimed he wasn’t a good speaker. When his face was put on a postage stamp in 2008, he said, “Well, I’ve never been a good speaker. I would disgrace myself in the presence of such experts. But I’m happy my shortcomings should be discovered here. That is my total speech.” Through all the years of his life he maintained humility and touched his audience.
A great man and exquisite public speaker; he will be greatly missed.