5 Minutes of Mandela: What Can We Learn from One of the World’s Greatest Orators?

Nelson Mandela, whose death in 2013 was felt by millions of people across the globe, spoke some of the most powerful words ever spoken at the end of an extraordinary speech which he gave during his trial in the 1960s for treason and acts of sabotage. He was one of the world’s greatest ever orators, and here is our tribute to perhaps the greatest Nelson Mandela speech of them all.

By Olivia MacDonnell, ConfidentSpeak

Nelson Mandela speech

At ConfidentSpeak we routinely study and learn from the world’s greatest speakers, orators and performers to help leaders communicate more effectively.

Today we take a look at one of the most inspirational and poignant speeches of all time, the Nelson Mandela speech before his imprisonment in 1964.

Speaking in the Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria on April 20th, 1964, Mr Mandela knew that he risked the gallows. In the end he was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour, a sentence which only came to an end when he was finally freed 27 years later in February 1990.

During his long speech so eloquently delivered, he didn’t deny the charges. Instead he explained how his actions of resistance were, as he saw it, no more than a moral duty.

Probably the most poignant part of this historic address is the last five minutes the transcript of which is below.

Five Minutes of the Greatest Nelson Mandela Speech

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the government declares them to be capable of. Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their menfolk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the labour bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Listen to these last five minutes below, or read the full text of this epic speech here courtesy of The Guardian & with thanks to The Nelson Mandela Foundation.


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ConfidentSpeak is a specialist S.T.E.M Communications & Coaching Consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives at home and abroad. Contact us for details on our range of  corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.


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