What Madiba actually said & what he meant

  • Madiba misquote HOME
The speech by President Nelson Mandela that is at the centre of so much misquotation and out-of-context usage, that the BDS-driven narrative has become the conventional wisdom on the matter. The speech was, in fact, delivered on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Pretoria on 4 December 1997. Jewish Report has elected to publish the speech, complete and verbatim, so that the incredible affinity of Madiba towards the entire Middle East is remembered and quoted accurately.
by ANT KATZ | Jul 22, 2015

Probably the most often misquoted of Nelson Mandela's statements of all time is oft-quoted one where he said… “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians…” has fooled many a gullible listener over the years. And, of course, Madiba did say this, but not in isolation.

Madiba mis-quote


The US anti-Israel NGO, Boycott, Divest and Sanction (Israel), has masterfully extracted and re-contextualised it to such an extent that it has become ubiquitous.

In an address on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Pretoria on 4 December 1997, then-President Nelson Mandela authored his own speech and certainly did say: “Our freedom is incomplete…” – but when read in context, as with so many of Madiba’s well thought-through speeches, this one was remarkable and memorable for many of its facets.

Not the least of which was his overtly conciliatory stance towards Israel - particularly given the purpose of the event.

In fact, Madiba was at pains to tell the Palestinians and their supporters where they were failing in their negotiations with Israel, labouring the point that “Palestinian and Israeli campaigners for peace know that security for any nation is not abstract; neither is it exclusive.

Madiba mis-quote1It depends on the security of others; it depends on mutual respect and trust.” His message to the Palestinians was clear: Show Israel they can trust you as partners in peace and you will achieve it.

Almost twenty years ago Madiba was not scared to castigate Sudanese president al-Bashir - and other global players for trampling on peoples’ human rights.

A finger, as a matter interest, that he never pointed at Israel!

His actual words were: “But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor (now resolved), the Sudan (for which President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir’s arrest is sought by the International Criminal Court for the slaughter of over 300,000 mainly Christian citizens in Darfur) and other parts of the world.”

In the post-Oslo and post-Camp David euphoria that existed, Madiba included in his speech to Palestinian dignitaries that he wished to “take this opportunity to pay tribute to these Palestinian and Israeli leaders. In particular, we pay homage to the memory of Yitzchak Rabin who paid the supreme sacrifice in pursuit of peace.”

The original speech in full

The following speech was personally authored by President Nelson Mandela and delivered by him at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Pretoria on 4 December 1997:

Mr. Chairman; Mr. Suleyman al-Najab, Special Emissary of President Yasser Arafat; Members of the diplomatic corps; Distinguished Guests,

We have assembled once again as South Africans, our Palestinian guests and as humanists to express our solidarity with the people of Palestine.

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the organisers of the event, particularly the United Nations Information Centre and the UNISA Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies for this magnificent act of compassion, to keep the flames of solidarity, justice and freedom burning.

The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own. We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others face.

Yet we would be less than human if we did so.

It behoves all South Africans, themselves erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom and justice.

Even during the days of negotiations, our own experience taught us that the pursuit of human fraternity and equality - irrespective of race or religion - should stand at the centre of our peaceful endeavours. The choice is not between freedom and justice, on the one hand, and their opposite, on the other. Peace and prosperity; tranquillity and security are only possible if these are enjoyed by all without discrimination.

It is in this spirit that I have come to join you today to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood.

We would be beneath our own reason for existence as government and as a nation, if the resolution of the problems of the Middle East did not feature prominently on our agenda.

When in 1977 the United Nations passed the resolution inaugurating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, it was asserting the recognition that injustice and gross human rights violations were being perpetrated in Palestine. In the same period, the UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system.

But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.

Madiba mis-quote1We are proud as a government, and as the overwhelming majority of South Africans to be part of an international consensus taking root that the time has come to resolve the problems of Palestine.

Indeed, all of us marvelled at the progress made a few years ago, with the adoption of the Oslo Agreements. Leaders of vision, who saw problems not merely from the point of view of their own narrow constituency, had at least found a workable approach towards friendship and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East.

I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to these Palestinian and Israeli leaders. In particular, we pay homage to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin who paid the supreme sacrifice in pursuit of peace.


Madiba mis-quote3

We are proud as humanists, that the international consensus on the need for the implementation of the Oslo Agreements is finding expression in the efforts of the multitude of Israeli and Palestinian citizens of goodwill who are marching together, campaigning together, for an end to prevarication. These soldiers of peace are indeed sending a message to us all, that the day is not far off, when Palestinian and Jewish children will enjoy the gay abandon of children of God in a peaceful and prosperous region.

These soldiers of peace recognise that the world we live in is rising above the trappings of religious and racial hatred and conflict. They recognise that the spurning of agreements reached in good faith and the forceful occupation of land can only fan the flames of conflict. They know from their own experience that, it is in a situation such as this, that extremists on all sides thrive, fed by the blood lust of centuries gone by.

These Palestinian and Israeli campaigners for peace know that security for any nation is not abstract; neither is it exclusive. It depends on the security of others; it depends on mutual respect and trust. Indeed, these soldiers of peace know that their destiny is bound together, and that none can be at peace while others wallow in poverty and insecurity.

Thus, in extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine, we do so in the full knowledge that we are part of a humanity that is at one, that the time has come for progress in the implementation of agreements. The majority of the world community; the majority of the people of the Middle East; the majority of Israelis and Palestinians are suing for peace.

But we know, Mr. Chairman, that all of us need to do much much more to ensure that this noble ideal is realised.

As early as February 1995, our government formalised its relations with the State of Palestine when we established full diplomatic relations. We are proud of the modest technical assistance that our government is offering Palestine in such areas as Disaster Management, women`s empowerment and assistance to handicapped children. But the various discussions with our counterparts in Palestine are an indication that we can do more.

We need to do more as government, as the ANC and other parties, as South Africans of all religious and political persuasions to spur on the peace process. All of us should be as vocal in condemning violence and the violation of human rights in this part of the world as we do with regard to other areas. We need to send a strong message to all concerned that an attempt by anyone to isolate partners in negotiations from their own mass base is bound to hurt the peace process as a whole.

We must make our voices heard calling for stronger action by world bodies as well as those states that have the power, to act with the same enthusiasm in dealing with this deadlock as they do on other problems in the Middle East.

Yes, all of us need to do more in supporting the struggle of the people of Palestine for self-determination; in supporting the quest for peace, security and friendship in this region.

But at least we can draw comfort from the fact that, our meeting today is yet another small expression of our empathy.

We hope that, by this humble act, we are strengthening the voice of peace and friendship in Israel and Palestine; so that, as we enter the new millennium, we shall all have taken a giant stride towards a world in which our humanity will be the hallmark of our relations across colour, religious and other divides.

Thank you. 

  • This speech has been copied verbatim from the ANC WEBSITE – click here if you don’t believe us!


  1. 3 bds works 22 Jul
    Mandla Mandela speaks at [email protected] international press conference... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl21HEmoKVw&feature=youtu.be 
  2. 2 adam levy 23 Jul
    Interestingly the conflicts in Sudan and East Timor have been resolved because there were partners for peace. Bashir should be indicted for war crimes in Darfur and the Indonesians responsible for the massacres in East Timor.

    In Palestine the Zionists want to continue with their occupation, extend it and continue to brutalise Palestinians. The world has now recognized that the Palestinians have no partner for peace.

    Mandela's quote is correctly quoted in the context in which is it cited - albeit abridged.

    Watch this interview with Madiba by Ted Koppel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5TiUhhm7cQ

    [Users are reminded that the person who uses the pseudonym “Adam Levy” is not known to SAJR Online and is vehemently anti-Israel  -MODERATOR]

  3. 1 nat cheiman 24 Jul
    BDS are frauds. Levy, you are quite correct when you say the Palestinians have no partner for peace. Israel does not need a partner for peace unlike Is , Iraq, Syria and a host of Arab countries. Why on earth would Israel want to partner the philistines???? And the world has recognized nothing of the sort. In fact most of the civilized world are tired of you and your peace loving bulls**tters. Jews were in Israel 4000 years before the philistines, etc.
    Incidentally, the conflicts in Sudan and Timor have not been resolved unless your Imam told you that crap.
    You and your ilk can talk nonsense to morons and halfwits and they will form part of your army of amoeba's.
    Your pals should have arrested Bashir when he was here. Then you would have nothing to crow about.
    In the meantime, he kills and maims in the name of WHAT OR WHO? ISLAM perhaps


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