between the lines logo (anthony asadullah samad)*Sitting in the middle of the night, watching the world pay tribute to a man whose very purpose was to free his people from under an oppressive regime of apartheid—I was reminded of  the power of resolve. Revolve is often built in isolation and the calm of silence.

Sometimes, silence speaks more than words. Thus, is the power of wisdom.

The world came to celebrate not only the life of a man, they came to witness a closing chapter of a miracle. God often reveals miracles right before our eyes—in the presence of our enemies. The miracle of Nelson Mandela was that he not only became bigger than life showing an uncompromising resolve during 27 years of imprisonment. He became bigger than his enemies in refusing to become what they were—haters. His resolve was bigger than his haters.

Nelson Mandela’s resolve was to dismantle a system of racial oppression.

And that-he did. In dismantling apartheid-he dismantled his enemies.

He didn’t need hate. He had resolve.

A resolve built behind prison walls and unleashed on the world. Everything else, including his presidency emanated from there. Watching this man become an international cause celebre’ in the dismantling of the very system that oppressed him was the brilliance of the movement. It was the takeaway that made the sacrifice worth it. Running the country was an additional perk, and actually easier than dismantling systemic racism. Apatheid may have been overthrown, but the country would’ve been destroyed the process. It chose reconciliation instead.

Nelson Mandela saved South Africa from itself.

The prisoner to President story of Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest in the history of mankind. It’s a story of the power of resolve. The resolve to outlive his oppressor and outlive the system that oppressed a nation is how Nelson Mandela should be remembered.

Let’s understand what the 20th Century anti-Apartheid movement was. It was not the 20th Century Civil Rights Movements. It was not a non-violent direct action protest movement, where a tyrannical majority imposed its racial will on a statistical minority. The anti-Apartheid movement an armed struggled against a tyrannical system of a statistical minority imposed on a racial majority. Apartheid wasn’t indigenous to South America. Apartheid was a policy adopted by the nation’s National Party in 1948. It was modeled after de jure segregation policy in the United States sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which law prohibited whites and blacks from coming together under the guise of “Separate but Equal.” Apartheid made no such claim. Apartheid means “the state of being apart” and all rights and privileges were extended to the Afrikaner minority who ruled the nation. Rights were extended to color designation. Whites had all rights. Coloreds had some rights. Blacks (the African Majority) had no rights, no liberty and very little freedom. They had to carry passes to move around their own homeland. South Africans were foreigners in their own land.

The African National Congress, a group organized in 1923 (originally the South African Native National Congress founded in 1912), to protect black South Africans exclusion from union and industrialist activity taking black farms and black worker discrimination, become the principle outlet for free expression—including the right to protest themselves from the violence of oppression. ANC formed its own military wing in 1961 and positioned itself to overthrown apartheid—and the government, in necessary—to end racial oppression.

This is, by no means, a love story—except maybe for the love of human dignity. The anti-apartheid was an armed struggle against racial inhumanity. The ANC was banned for most of its existence. It was truly an opposition party operating outside of the government.

Mandela was among the ANC, head of its political arm, and a chief negotiator for the dignity of black majority. He, and others, were arrested for trying to sabotage the government—a crime punishable by death. Nelson Mandela had the wisdom then to use his trial, to put South African apartheid on trial. He knew the world would be watching and in an era of the assassinations of Heads of State, he knew the possibility of death was real. With its racial politics on the world stage, South African chose not to kill Mandela and add to his martyrdom.

South Africa sentenced him to life in prison—expecting that Mandela would die in jail, as most political prisoners did.

Instead of taking away from the martyrdom, the government added to it by placing Mandela in isolation much of the time of his imprison—fashioning an already tough resolve.

The longer he lived, the tougher his resolve—the tougher his resolve, the larger he got in the eyes of the world. The world was unprepared for the man it saw in 1990. They expected to see a bitter militant radical. They saw instead a wise counselor who understood the inevitable.

South Africa was on the verge of collapse. The release of Mandela was a last ditch attempt to save itself. The first thing Mandela did when he was released was renewed his ANC membership. Then he asked DeKlerk, “Now what you wanna do?” Mandela’s message was, we can save it together, or we can take it. What you wanna do? DeKlerk chose to save the nation and concede power. It included handing power to someone he considered an enemy of the state.

South Africa’s biggest supporter, the United States, also considered him an enemy of the state, but just as it was forced to stand down on segregation thirty years earlier—it stood beside South Africa’s stand down in 1994. It is unfathomable to imagine the United States electing a black President four years after segregation was dismantled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In fact, the nation assassinated the person most responsible for making it happen—something the nation still hasn’t gotten over. King may have witnessed the beginnings desegregation but he never witnessed racial reconciliation. America still hasn’t reconciled on race 50 years later—even after electing Barack Obama. America hasn’t built that kind of resolve.

Yet, four years out of prison, Nelson Mandela was President of South African.

Nelson Mandela was on America’s “terrorist watch list” until 2008, nine years after the completion of his presidency. Even as President of South Africa and one of the world’s most respected leader, the United States considered him a terrorist threat. Only a bill sponsored by then Senator Bill Kerry, signed by George W. Bush, removed him from the list.

To watch four American Presidents pay homage to a man who changed the nation, and the world, through his demonstration of personal resolve—to outlast the system that imprisoned him—was truly ironic. Nelson Mandela defeated apartheid. Apartheid didn’t defeat him.

That’s what the world will remember most about the beloved “Madiba.” Rest in peace.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.

anthony asadulla samad

Anthony Asadulla Samad