Document Type


Publication Date

November 2015


One of the greatest leaders of our time – Nelson Mandela – died December 5, 2013 bringing an end to a remarkable life from prison to presidency. While scholars have studied Mandela’s speeches (Williams, 2008; Zagacki, 2003; and Sheckels, 2001), few have sought to understand his complexities through a rhetorical analysis of his speech and its resonation for a particular audience – Black South Africans. Analysis of Mandela’s speeches have until now focused on a much wider audience. In this paper, we focus attention on what his speech may have meant for his people – Black South Africans – who he represented in the fight for freedom that led to his imprisonment in 1964. We carefully selected two of his most important speeches and provide a rhetorical analysis of each and in the process we sought to understand who he was. The two speeches are considered the most important in Mandela’s life but they also represent, perhaps, the most important speeches for Black South Africans in the long history of struggle. The first is the An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die speech presented by Mandela on April 20, 1964. It is the defining speech of the apartheid era when Mandela spoke at the trial, which would keep him in prison for a significant length of his life. The second, his Inauguration as President speech on May 10, 1994 when he spoke as leader of his country where he and Black South Africans became, for the first time, equal citizens in a democratic republic.