Essay on Nelson Mandela's 'I Am Prepared to Die' Rhetorical Analysis

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Men are not born hating another person because of skin color, background, or religion; they only learn to do so which signifies that they can also learn how to love one another. This powerful statement from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom (1994), constitutes the essence of Mandela’s activism: an end to racial discrimination in South Africa. This is especially made evident in his speech at his 1964 trial after being arrested for his opposition to the apartheid political system in South Africa. In his speech, Mandela applies mostly logos by stating vital facts about the socioeconomic inequality of the African indigenes of South Africa. His ethos is also solidified by being a prominent figure in the fight against white supremacy and being able to fight for the cause to the end, Mandela appeals to emotion (pathos) by reminding the audience that all human beings have the same motivations and goals despite differences in race.

A vital element in Nelson Mandela’s appeal to logos (reason) was his ability to state the conditions of the black people in South Africa. Through this, he was able to identify the problem of inequality between black and white people to persuade his audience that he was indeed fighting for a good cause. He starts this by providing facts about the overall economic nature of South Africa, “South Africa is the richest country in Africa, and could be one of the richest countries of the world.” Mandela asserts that the South African economy is growing, but this growth does not translate to development. He argues, that the white population enjoys a higher standard of living compared to the Africans who constantly live in poverty. Mandela affirms that forty percent of Africans live in unconducive environments characterized by pollution and erosion, and thirty percent have menial jobs similar to the Middle Ages serfs (and are not even permitted labor unions). The remaining thirty percent, who live in developed towns, still suffer from a low standard of living. Mandela further discusses inequality in education: “… approximately forty percent of African children between the age group of seven to fourteen do not attend school.” The African children who manage to attend school are subject to lower standards compared to white children. White children also enjoy higher government expenditure allocations compared to black children. By providing these facts and statistics, Mandela can reach out to the audience through reason and analogies that the African people of South Africa deserve better treatment. He also uses logos to justify ignoring the ban on his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), by claiming that “Africans were not part of the government and did not make the laws by which they were governed.” Therefore, he uses the syllogism form of logic to conclude meaningful propositions: since Africans do not have a say in government, they should not have to carry out the will of the government.

Along with strong logos appeals, Mandela also appeals to emotion (pathos) by evoking emotion by stating very sad realities that he expects his audience to ponder. As a result of white supremacy, the white population of South Africa sees blacks as inferior. Thus, whites see Africans as “a separate breed”. In addition, Mandela asserts that “they do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions...”. In this case, one can say that he combines logos and pathos applying comparison and analogies and making his audience feel sympathy. The audience can also feel sympathy through Mandela’s affirmation of the effects of discrimination on family life such as spouses being separated and children wandering around the streets because of no education. Furthermore, the emotion of anger is evoked by citing the multiple cases of violence, which according to Mandela, cannot be cured exclusively by death sentence. He also relied on pathos as well as logos using the emotion of helplessness in his persuasion: “Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o’clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children; African women want to be with their men folk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves…” These two statements arouse sympathy and anger. Through pathos, Nelson Mandela aligns his ideology on development similar to that of Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen: a system of capabilities and freedom for all citizens (Human Development Report, 2019).

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The last appeal, ethos (credibility), is mostly made manifest in the closing portions of his speech. Nelson Mandela is one of the most prominent figures known for advocating equality and fairness for the black people of South Africa. He testifies to this important fact which adds to his credibility: “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people, and I have fought against black domination.” Through his activism, Mandela deems himself worthy to be part of the race for the end of apartheid in South Africa. He solidifies his ethos by affirming that he is even prepared to die if that is what it takes to end the racism and discrimination of black people in South Africa. Here, he was able to merge ethos with pathos by stirring up sympathy to the extent of his passion for ending apartheid in South Africa. Mandela also adds to his ethos by citing credible sources to strengthen his argument. Some of these sources include the Bantu Educational Journal which enables him to reinforce the argument of educational inequality between whites and Africans. He also quotes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the contention that the government must pay attention to the needs of the people: “The will of the people should be the basis of the authority of the government.”

Mandela fortifies his argument on the poor standard of living in South Africa by citing a health authority: “According to the Medical Officer of Health for Pretoria, tuberculosis kills forty people a day (nearly all Africans). Mandela through his well-structured words and reliable citations proves himself worthy enough to persuade his audience.

In conclusion, Nelson Mandela through his synthesis of Aristotle’s appeals was able to compose a well-written and structured speech. Throughout his speech, his tone was peaceful and respectful; he did not throw any abusive words. The speech was originally aimed at being a defense to the accusations made against him. Instead of focusing just on himself, he used the opportunity to speak on the injustice that Africans are going through in South Africa. However, the trial was not in his favor as he and other members of the ANC political party were sentenced to life imprisonment. Though he may not have been successful initially, through Mandela’s activism South Africa was eventually free from apartheid and blacks were able to vote. The impact of this speech and the actions of Mandela continue to live on through an equal and non-discriminatory South Africa.


    1. Mandela, N. (1994). A Long Walk to Freedom. Boston: Back Bay Books.
    2. United Nations Development Programme. (2019). Human Development Report 2019: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today.
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Essay on Nelson Mandela’s ‘I Am Prepared to Die’ Rhetorical Analysis. (2024, February 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
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