Nelson Mandela – The World’s Most Famous Prisoner

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela

It was Feb. 11, 1990, and the world waited with bated breath as the lone prisoner was freed from his shackles. Those who knew him saw that the full cheeks of the former boxer now gave way to a thinner, emaciated man in a suit.

But what was more perplexing was the reaction of the people who didn’t know him.

During the big day, millions of people lined up and surrounded Nelson Mandela as they tried to catch a glimpse of his face, even if some of them have not heard or did not know of the anti-apartheid revolutionary.

The question is, why? After all, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, Nelson Mandela was only known in some political circles of the African government as being a staunch opposer of racial segregation.

And his imprisonment was meant to bury him – and his advocacy – in obscurity even more. In fact, during his prison term, Mandela could only see his close family members; he was not permitted to see anyone else. Even the government kept photos of his captivity from the public.

Imprisonment Failure

The opposite effect, however, occurred. Deeds indeed go beyond physical limitations, and as the anti-apartheid movement grew in influence, the anonymity and continued exile of Mandela for a quarter of a century became a prophetic symbol for the people sharing his ideals. The movement needed to have a face, not of any man, but of a person who embodied and experienced the oppression the black people themselves were facing, and Mandela acquired a mythical status whose story symbolized such suppression.

For a man meant to be forgotten, Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment has not only sparked the anti-apartheid movement, he was also ironically catapulted into a revolutionary figure– all from the confines of his dingy cell. Truly, the more you hide something good, the more it rises up to the surface.

Action Summary:

  • Understand the strategic importance of absence. Just like how wind douses a candle but fans a fire, absence diminishes minor statures but inflames great ones.
  • Don’t over-saturate your audience with your constant presence. Let them crave you.