Reflections on racial divisions were tweeted by UN official, wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela

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A quote about divisions in society has been shared thousands of times in multiple Facebook posts which claim these are the words of former South African president Nelson Mandela. The claim is false; AFP Fact Check traced the purported quote to a tweet shared by Mohamad Safa, a permanent representative to the United Nations. Also, the Nelson Mandela Foundation confirmed the words were not Mandela’s.

The post, archived here, has been shared on Facebook 49,000 times since it was published on September 10, 2020.

“This Nelson Mandela quote is the top trending post on our social network this morning,” reads the caption.

Below it, the quote appears in the form of a graphic and reads: “Our world is not divided by race, color, gender, or religion. Our world is divided into wise people and fools. And fools divide themselves by race, color, gender, or religion”. 

Mandela is again credited at the end of the quote. 

Screenshot of the misattributed quote shared in a Facebook post, taken on October 10, 2020

The same claim was also shared here on Facebook in Ethiopia.

Using the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, AFP Fact Check discovered similar posts on Facebook. We’ve archived the links here, here, here, here, here and here.

A quote by Nelson Mandela?

AFP Fact Check discovered that the quote was wrongly attributed to Mandela and was first shared in a tweet on August 7, 2020, by Mohamad Safa, a permanent representative to the United Nations.

A member of Safa’s media team told AFP Fact Check in a message sent on October 7, 2020, that “we would like to emphasise that these words were said by Mr. Safa”.

“Misleading information spreads all over the Internet about this tweet of Mr. Safa, and there are those who attributed it to Nelson Mandela and others attributed it to themselves,” Safa’s spokesperson said.

Furthermore, Safa published a post on his official Facebook page on September 6, 2020, clarifying that the words widely shared online were, in fact, his.

Screenshot of Mohamad Safa's Facebook post, taken on October 20, 2020

“I don't like those who always spread false information or pass our quotes under someone else name,” he wrote on Facebook. “I don't know who put Nelson Mandela's name on my words and shared it online.”

Safa’s post clarifying ownership of the quote was shared more than 500 times.

Not Mandela’s words, says foundation 

Rania Saleh, the director of archive and research at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa, confirmed the quote was not Mandela’s.

“It’s definitely not a Madiba quote,” she told AFP Fact Check. “I responded to somebody else a few weeks ago who wanted to use the same quote. This is the third time somebody is asking me about the same quote.”

Saleh described how, when verifying quotes attributed to Madiba (Mandela’s clan name), she consults a database with more than 1,500 of Mandela’s speeches, including forewords and interviews. 

“I also check Long Walk to Freedom -- sometimes a lot of quotes come from his autobiography and various other sources. We also have something called Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, that's a compilation of over 2,200 of Mandela’s quotes and then I also do a general search in case it might be a source which we haven’t had.” 

Saleh said that misattributed Mandela quotes are recurring, although rarely are they damaging to Mandela’s image as they tend to be about subjects like corruption, inequality or justice, topics he often discussed. 

“Every now and then, we do get requests to use a quote which is not Madiba’s,” said Saleh. She added that when they are unable to authenticate a quote, then they refuse permission.

Misattributed quotes are common on social media. 

AFP Fact Check debunked a quote in support of Nigeria's Biafra state that was falsely attributed to Bill Gates. We have also fact-checked social media posts falsely attributing coronavirus comments to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while this debunk tackled a Theodore Roosevelt quote falsely attributed to former Canadian PM Wilfrid Laurier.