On Nelson Mandela

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Wishing to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, I searched for the words to his inaugural speech.  What I came across surprised me (see further below). Though the world still credits Mandela for it, “Our Deepest Fear”was never written by Mandela nor for him.
It was actually written by Marianne Williamson.

My discovery puzzled me for a moment. But then I recalled an anecdote I’d heard about what an interpret replied to a reporter once he finished translating for a highly respected diplomat.

Reporter: “So, did he really say that?
Interpreter: “No, but it’s what he should have said!”

In Mandela’s case, he may not have written these words and perhaps they were not written explicitly for him, but he certainly gave Williamson’s words a voice so they could be heard around the world.  Hmmmm, and that reminds me of Whitney Houston’s singing Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You” and turning it into an international sensation.

Guess when something’s or someone’s destiny calls, synchronicity occurs:
Great man finds great words; great words find great man.
Great singer finds great song; great song finds great singer.

Oh, and by the way, Ms Williamson entitles her text below

I beg to differ with Williamson:
Though he never penned the words in question,
Nelson Mandela certainly DID give them a voice!

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“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This passage is commonly mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address.

It actually comes from the book ‘A Return To Love’ (1992) by Marianne Williamson



I created the original version of this page more than eight years ago on one of Yahoo’s (now defunct) free-hosted “Geocities” web sites: http://web.archive.org/web/20040910184030/http://www.geocities.com/fascin8or/mandela.htm

At the time, nearly every web site sharing the “Our deepest fear..” quote on the internet cited “Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address” as its source.

[ It almost seemed as if the only people aware that this was a false attribution were Nelson Mandela, Marianne Williamson, and those who had actually read her book!  ]

Over the years since then, many of those web sites have correctly re-attributed the quote (- often, in the process, kindly referencing this particular page).

Though, the internet being what it is, misinformation continues to spread in the blink of an eye, and the myth about Mandela and the quote is still very much alive and well.

I often receive emails about this page.
Some people simply voicing their surprise that the myth is so wide-spread;
some asking if I am sure I’ve got my facts right;
and on occasion, one or two verging on the hostile – demanding to know why I would pretend that the words weren’t Nelson Mandelas – why I would fabricate such misinformation, and why I should wish to dis-respect Nelson Mandela in this way !!

To be absolutely clear:

The  “Our deepest fear..” quote was not written by Nelson Mandela
Nor was it written by a speech-writer for Nelson Mandela

It was not used – as the myth would have it – “by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 Inaugural Address”

In fact, even the reference to Nelson Mandela’s “Inaugural Address” (i.e. Inaugural Speech) is itself somewhat incorrect.

Nelson Mandela actually gave two Inaugural Addresses/Speeches:

the first, on 9th May 1994 at Cape Town   – see here

the second,  on 10th May 1994 at Pretoria  – see here

And, as can clearly be seen from the transcripts, the ” Our deepest fear…” quote is not to be found in either of them.


“Several years ago, this paragraph from A RETURN TO LOVE began popping up everywhere, attributed to Nelson Mandela’s l994 Inaugural Address. As honored as I would be had President Mandela quoted my words, indeed he did not. I have no idea where that story came from, but I am gratified that the paragraph has come to mean so much to so many people.”

Marianne Williamson

Source: http://www.aetw.org/mandela.htm


About emanita01

I am a Franco-american woman who hails from Massachusetts. I live in France near the Swiss border, only minutes away from Geneva. I am a member of the Geneva Writers Group and the Association La Forge, a literary group based in France. I write stories, poems and am currently working on a couple of plays, a one-woman show and actively learning how to perform stand-up comedy.
This entry was posted in Fodder for Thought and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Nelson Mandela

  1. Hi! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers?
    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing a few months
    of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

    • emanita01 says:

      Hi, For some reason, I’ve only just received/seen your comments. So, sorry for the extremely late response %-(
      For the moment, I have not been aware that I have been hacked, so I cannot be of much use there.
      Hmmm, you wrote that you now do backups to prevent content loss. Sounds useful, how do you go about backing up a blog?

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