Leaders share their memories of Mandela

  • President Barack Obama: “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “One of the great honors of my life was to be invited to Nelson Mandela’s home, spend private time and get to know him. He was everything you’ve ever heard and more—humble and unscathed by bitterness. And he always loved to tell a good joke. Being in his presence was like sitting with grace and majesty at the same time. He will always be my hero. His life was a gift to us all.”
  • Myrlie Evers-Williams: “We are all students of Mandela, for he taught us the power of faith, perseverance and above all devotion to ones ideals. Today, the world lost a giant among men and it is hard to imagine what the world will be like without his presence. It is up to each and every one of us to rededicate ourselves to eradicating hate and creating peace across the globe.”
  • Madeleine Albright: “We often say of famous figures that their words and works will survive them; in this case it is true. President Mandela was an activist, a prisoner of conscience, a political leader, and a venerated statesman but he was, above all, a teacher. He taught us that the power of forgiveness is greater than the power of hate, and that differences of race and nationality matter less than our shared humanity. These lessons are simple to articulate but require immense wisdom and courage to implement; Mandela’s strength as a teacher is that he not only advised us what to do, he showed us how.”
  • John Kerry: “[Teresa and I] had the honor of sitting with Mandela over the Thanksgiving holidays of 2007. I was struck by how warm, open, and serene he was. I stood in his tiny cell on Robben Island, a room with barely enough space to lie down or stand up, and I learned that the glare of the white rock quarry permanently damaged his eyesight. It hit home even more just how remarkable it was that after spending 27 years locked away, after having his own vision impaired by the conditions, that this man could still see the best interests of his country and even embrace the very guards who kept him prisoner.”
  • Malala Yousafzai: “Nelson Mandela is physically separated from us but his soul and spirit will never die. He belongs to the whole world because he is an icon of equality, freedom and love, the values we need all the time everywhere. His long, long struggle is a great demonstration of humanity. I have learned so much from Nelson Mandela and he has been my leader. He is a perpetual inspiration for me and millions of others around the world.”
  • Al Gore: “Along with hundreds of millions, I still vividly remember the day Madiba was released from Pollsmoor Prison just outside of Cape Town. My son and I were home in Nashville; the only ones awake on a Sunday morning. We sat on the couch and watched as Madiba was set free. I remember thinking that whatever important milestones my children and grandchildren witness in the coming century, few will rival this one.”
  • Bill & Melinda Gates: “It was an honor to meet President Nelson Mandela a number of times. We left each visit inspired and more optimistic about the opportunity to improve the lives of the poor throughout the world. From prisoner to president, Nelson Mandela was tireless in his pursuit of equality and justice for all people.”
  • Harry Belafonte: “His wisdom and goodness were the brightest stars in our moral galaxy. His courage inspired all who struggled for justice. His vision gave sight to those who otherwise might have been blinded by hate. His truth will live forever.”
  • Muhammad Ali: “What I will remember most about Mr.Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.”
  • Pope Francis: “Paying tribute to the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation’s citizens and in forging a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth, I pray that the late president’s example will inspire generations of South Africans to put justice and the common good at the forefront of their political aspirations.”
  • Bill Clinton: “Today the world has lost one of its most important leaders and one of its finest human beings. And Hillary, Chelsea and I have lost a true friend. History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Graça and his family and to the people of South Africa. All of us are living in a better world because of the life that Madiba lived. He proved that there is freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life’s real victories must be shared.”



Nelson Mandela passed away Thursday, Dec. 5 at the age of 95. The life and the legacy of the beloved former South African president left an impact on leaders across the globe, who shared their memories following the news.

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