Want to say something wise, magnanimous and moving? Why not quote Nelson Mandela?
Mandela, 92, has just published a new book. The anti-apartheid icon has already written an autobiography and a memoir. Now a book has been published of his quotations, "Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations."
Mandela, frail and in fading health, did not actually write this book. The staff at the Nelson Mandela Foundation have culled all his public speeches and writings to collect 2,000 quotations that highlight Mandela's wisdom and humor.
Editors Sello Hatang and Sahm Venter work for Mandela's foundation, which oversees charity and development work on his behalf and houses some of his archives. They say that foundation receives thousands of requests from researchers and others to confirm the accuracy of Mandela's quotes, according to Associated Press.
Venter said the quotations asked about most frequently are included in the book, along with others she hopes help show Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and South Africa's first black president, as a full human being. The editors scoured Mandela's speeches made over the past 60 years and researched his notebook entries, recorded conversations and other material, some until now unpublished, for the book.
"I see this as a reference work. I'm hoping that people will walk away knowing more about the man Nelson Mandela was," Hatang told AFP.
The publication of the new book in Johannesburg shows how far South Africa has come. Just 20 years ago the apartheid government declared it illegal to quote Mandela. He is now, according to the foundation, among the most quoted people in the world. But Hatang and Venter say Mandela is often misquoted, which is one of the reasons why they decided to publish the book.
Mandela gave visiting United States first lady Michelle Obama a copy of his book earlier this week, days before it was officially published.
The slim volume has a long list of 317 subject headings, from "Accountability" to "Zionism." In between are more personal themes like "Mother" and "Childhood." Mandela spent 27 years in prison, so it is fitting that the segment devoted to his jail time is large, with 26 headings.
There are some stirring sayings: "Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors," from a 1990 speech to the European Parliament.
Hatang said his favorite quote is one in which Mandela speaks of learning from the silence of solitude while in prison "how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die."
Another famous quote shows Mandela questioning his own path: "I have often wondered whether a person is justified in neglecting his own family to fight for opportunities for others."
On raising a family, Mandela wrote: "Few things make the life of a parent more rewarding and sweet as successful children," he wrote in a letter from Robben Island prison in 1981.
The quotations are arranged chronologically within each category, allowing readers a sense of how Mandela's ideas developed over time — or in some cases held firm, as with his loyalty to regimes in Cuba and Libya that supported his African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid. His early observations on Africa suffering under imperialism evolve to more recent criticism of the continent's homegrown tyrants.
It is especially interesting to see Mandela's voice grow stronger on the topic of AIDS, the disease that has devastated South Africa and southern Africa. While many Africa leaders chose to ignore and deny the deadly disease, Mandela spoke out forthrightly.
In 1992, two years after his release from prison, Mandela said: "Many of us find it difficult to talk about sex to our children, but nature's truth is that unless we guide the youth towards safer sex, the alternative is playing into the hands of a killer disease."
In 2005, Mandela wrote: "My son has died of AIDS."
"Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice," he said in 1995.
Mandela turns 93 on July 18, and concerns about his health have mounted since his brief hospitalisation in January for an acute respiratory infection.
He was photographed last week reading from a copy of the book given to US First Lady Michelle Obama during her visit.
Mandela was given a copy of the book on the eve of the launch and editor Sello Hatang said: "We are hoping when he gets a chance to read it, he will be blown away."