“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.”

Today, April 20, in 1964, Nelson Mandela, on trial for sabotage with about a dozen other men, for which they would be found guilty, instead of a defense, spoke for almost four hours, closing with the words entitling this post. Here is the full text he read from.

I recommend taking a moment today to review the story. Here is one video among many others and the Rivonia Trial Wikipedia page. I consider a leader’s story in changing a nation and world as poignant today as ever. People call me extreme today for eating vegetables and not flying. I don’t look to polluters for inspiration or comparison. I suggest you don’t either, but consider Mandela and his peers instead, with one major difference: the consequence of eating vegetables and not flying is improved health, time with family, income, and other things you probably like, not prison.

His closing words

The closing words of the speech still bring me to tears. I read them to a friend the other day and my voice broke. There are tears on my face now from hearing them from watching the video.

He was no more or less a human than you or I. He cared and he acted. He was flawed. He made mistakes. He wasn’t always easy to get along with. He didn’t know if his acts would make a difference. He had every reason to expect they wouldn’t.

They did. He didn’t act alone. He worked with other people. In prison for twenty-seven years, he worked with his oppressors.

Here are the closing words of his speech.

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.

Here is his voice, cued to this text (the very last paragraph begins at 26:50)

A podcast episode I recorded on this speech

I recorded an episode on the speech a couple of years ago. Here it is:

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