Nelson Mandela’s Free at Last Speech
Nelson Mandela was a political leader in South Africa much like Martin Luther King Jr. was here in the United States. He is considered to be one of the greatest leaders of all-time due to his nonviolent protest to end the apartheid in a very segregated South African society. Mandela also served as the nations first black president and went on to lead the African National Congress and his country during his time in prison before his election; much like Martin Luther King Jr.
Mandela gave his speech on May 2nd, 1994 just before the inauguration of his presidency in South Africa. He began his speech by thanking everyone and welcoming the new African National Congress. The beginning of the content in his speech is very uniting, “To the people of South Africa and the world watching: this is a joyous night for the human spirit. This is your victory too. You helped end apartheid; you stood with us through the transition.”
Not only does he thank and praise South Africans, he thanks and praises the whole world that helped to unite and transform the citizens of South Africa. He recognizes that countries around the world that have gone through segregation aided in the process of ending the apartheid.
Mandela visited New York City in 1990 and asked for the support of the American people claiming, “The African National Congress had followed the struggle of blacks in Harlem for 30 years… There is an umbilical cord that ties us together.”
Mandela realizes that he cannot win the fight against apartheid without the assistance of outside nations, especially the United States. Because of the recent segregation barrier being broken in the United States, Americans supported Mandela by the thousands on the streets of Harlem, demonstrating how we embrace the right to freedom. Mandela is conscious of how the American people influenced the citizens of South Africa into giving the non-white population freedoms and privileges they had fought over for generations.
Mandela’s speech also points out the heroes of South Africa, “heroes are legend across the generations. But it is you, the people, who are our true heroes. This is one of the most important moments in the life of our country.”
This quote is not only moving but it is also necessary in this speech. It was not Mandela himself or any other high power in the nation that lead to the ending of racial segregation, it was the citizens, white and black, that agreed to end a century long struggle. To Mandela, everyone on the liberal side of the debate is a national hero.
My favorite part of the speech is in the middle portion and I think conveys the most important message in the context, “I stand before you filled with deep pride and joy. Pride in the ordinary, humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm, patient determination to reclaim this country as your own. And joy that we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops- Free at last!”
Pride and joy are two very simple nouns that seem like low-level words given the context of this speech. I think it is fascinating that a well educated man like Mandela wouldn’t use a word like satisfied or exuberant or some other synonym of pride and joy that sounded more articulate. In my opinion, Mandela actually enhanced his speech by using these short words because they make him sound like he is talking to friends rather than a country that could criticize him for his simple language; pride and joy added a relaxed, emotional element to his speech.
This short quote also has historical significance to it. The last three words, “free at last,” are strikingly familiar. Mandela references Martin Luther King’s, “I Have A Dream,” speech where King concludes with, “free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, we are free at last.”
When Mandela incorporates this simple line into his speech he brings a plethora of historical symbolism into his words. “Free at last,” signifies the ending of segregation