9 Poems That Reveal Nelson Mandela’s Impact

A fallen icon can never truly die. They are memorialised in the work of artists, the pens of history, and the lips of the people. As much as Nelson Mandela’s own legacy is contested in the country of his birth, the former freedom fighter turned statesman is remembered all over the world in different ways, for different things. Mandela’s story stretched beyond the confines of South Africa and nestled itself into the hearts of many. In his life and in his death, poets wrote of Mandela. The Daily Vox collected some of the poems. 

Thabiso Mohare, An Ordinary Man

South African spoken word artist Thabiso Mohare, who performs under the name Afurakan, wrote a poem for NPR about Mandela when he passed away in 2013. 

In the end he died an ordinary man

Only rich in wrinkles from where the spirit had been

It would be the saddest days

And we watched the world weep

For a giant bigger than myths

A life owned by many

Now free as the gods

Some cried as though tomorrow was lost

Some celebrated, questioned freedom and its cost

Some seized the chance to stand on his shoulders

While others cursed his grave and scorned wisdom of the elders

Read the full poem here

Maya Angelou, His Day is Done

Maya Angelou needs no introduction in the literary world. The lauded American writer, singer, and civil rights activist wrote a tribute poem for Mandela. 

Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned in the bloody maws of South African dungeons.

Would the man survive? Could the man survive?

His answer strengthened men and women around the world.

In the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, in Chicago’s Loop, in New Orleans Mardi Gras, in New York City’s Times Square, we watched as the hope of Africa sprang through the prison’s doors.

His stupendous heart intact, his gargantuan will hale and hearty.

He had not been crippled by brutes, nor was his passion for the rights of human beings diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment.

Even here in America, we felt the cool, refreshing breeze of freedom.

Read the full poem here

Afzal Moolla, Nelson Rolihlahla ‘Madiba’ Mandela walked amongst us not long ago

Afzal Moolla was born in Delhi, India to parents who were working as political exiles against apartheid in South Africa. This poem was published on his personal blog where he writes poetry for pleasure. 

Nelson Rolihlahla ‘Madiba’ Mandela walked amongst us not long ago.

A human being who personified kindness.

A human being who embodied humility.

A human being who exemplified the unity of our human race.

Read the full poem here

Patricia Schonstein Pinnock, Ingqanga ifile:The Bateleur is dead. Praise Poem to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1918-2013

Patricia Schonstein-Pinnock, also known as Patricia Schonstein, is a South African-Italian writer and curator of anthologies. She wrote this praise poem when Mandela passed away. 

Yakha yaligorha elixhobileyo

He was once an armed warrior 

Kodwa yazibeka phantsi izigalo

But he put down his weapons

Yaza yangumfuziselo woxolo

And become an icon of peace

Yayingumthetheleli wabo bacinzelekileyo

He was a spokesman for the oppressed

Nabo babefumene uphum’ aphele

And for the banished

Yawaqhawula amakhamandela ocalucalulo

He broke the chains of apartheid

Yasifundisa ngoxolelwano

He taught us reconciliation

Yazamkela iintshaba zayo

He embraced his enemies

Ayizange ibenekratshi kwabo babeyivalele entolongweni

He had no hatred for those who imprisoned him

Silandela ekhondweni layo

In his flight path we follow

Read the full poem here

Nayyirah Waheed, watching over madiba (june. 23, 2013. 6:07 p.m. est, usa)

Contemporary poet Nayirrah Waheed wrote a few poems about coping with the grief of the death of Nelson Mandela in her second poetry book nejma


ninety four years 


many lives. 

is many bones to go through. 

many walks through the sun. 

many hearts to shed. 

many stars of joy to comb through your hair. 

a lot of time to drink. 

let us hold you now. 

let us warm the water for your skin. let our youth be your comfort. 

we have seen how your feet danced. 


that we have committed

your rhythm. 

your song. 


to memory.

our weeping 


all hope and fresh mourning.

The full poem is in Waheed’s poetry collection nejma. 

Dr Zakes Kagiso Motene, Go wele Mokaloba!!!

Medical doctor at the South African Military Health Service and author Dr Zakes Kagiso Motene wrote a tribute poem to Mandela in Setswana, which was translated into English. Motene read the poem at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in February 2014.

Ijoo re lesego jang ne

Oh, just how blessed we are!

Go beng re ntse mo botshelong ka nako le mogaka yo

To have shared our time of life with this magnanimous Hero

Fa a ne a leba ngwana, a bona lerato leo Rara a re ratileng ka lone

Who, whenever he looked at a child, would exude such an exuberance of Love,

Tota e ne e le wa magodimo

That which only God has shown to each of us

Tota fa mongwe a ka tle a botse

Indeed, he was of the heavens

Le nna ke tla itaya sehuba

And yes, indeed, if one would ever ask

la re:” Ke bone moengele, mo nakong ya me ya botshelo”!

I would pound my chest and say: “I have seen an angel in my time of life!”

Tota, o ne o se wa fatshe leno

Indeed, you were not of this earth

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

You belonged to the heavens

Read the full poem here.

Togba-Nah Tipoteh, Mandela the Madiba

After the 6th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in Soweto in July 2008, Liberian poet and politician Togba-Nah Tipoteh presented Mandela with this poem which he had written in Mandela’s honour.

From those years detained

His back so straight

Despite the apartheid dictate

Back bending rock breaking

Bent on dignity taking

Apartheid sought to break his back forever

Instead, Mandela broke apartheid’s back forever

Apartheid doped with the authority of brutality

Mandela robed with the authority of morality

Apartheid crushed under the ground

Mandela raised above the ground

Unto people of the world in need of moral authority

Unto people of the world in search of moral authority

Read the full poem here

Thabo Mbeki, A Farewell to Madiba

Succeeding Mandela, Thabo Mbeki was the president of South Africa from 1999 to 2008. Mbeki delivered this praise poem about Mandela to the National Assembly in Cape Town on 26 March 1999. The poem was written in Xhosa and English. 

You have been where nobody should be asked to be.

You have carried burdens heavier than those who felt it their responsibility and right to proclaim you an enemy of the state.

You have to convince your enemies to believe a story difficult to believe, because it was true, that your burnished spear glittered in the rays of the sun, not to speak of hatred and death from them, but because you prayed that its blinding brilliance would tell them, whose ears would not hear, that you loved them as your own kith and kin.

You have had to bear the mantle of sainthood when all you sought was pride in the knowledge that you were a good foot soldier for justice and freedom…

Read the full poem here

Kelwyn Sole, The empty space we call Mandela

Kelwyn Sole is a South African poet and academic. Sole has published seven volumes of poetry, the latest of which is Walking, Falling. This poem was one of his previously unpublished works. 

In London a poet launches

his self-promoting barque of ignorance

with incantations to your legacy;

in Durban a performing Fallist

castigating the privileges

of everyone except

her own

                    shits on your name,

in a different kind of posturing.

In a sense, I suppose, it was your fault:

Who were you, Mandela?

Read the full poem here

Featured image by Enam Bosokah.