One similarity between Nelson Mandela and Zulaikha is their resistance to external control.
A shared idea between Nelson Mandela and Zulaikha is their refusal to cave into the social expectation around them. In Mandela's case, he advocated African independence from white control. While many social and political forces sought to silence him, Mandela did not relent in his ideas. He believed that change was needed in how Africans saw themselves and how white society treated them. This resistance was reflective of a "natural rebelliousness" he claims as part of his character. Zulaikha displays this same level of resistance. While social forces malign her because of her gender and her appearance, she does not acquiesce. She continues to love her siblings and takes lessons from Meena even though she recognizes that her social order does not encourage her to do so. She is not dismayed by how others react to her physical appearance. Her perseverance is an act of resistance. Both Zulaikha and Mandela are rebellious against social and political orders that seek to silence them. Both of them display resistance against forces of social oppression and control.
The actions of both Mandela and Zulaikha demand social change. Mandela goes to prison, experiences brutal treatment at Robben Island, and endures physical abuse because of his commitment to social change. Even though pressure is brought to bear in trying to get him to change his views, Mandela does not alter his value system. In fact, he uses his time in prison to harden his views and gain even further conviction in his belief that a world which represents inequality must change.
Zulaikha displays similar traits. She knows that tutoring is frowned upon in Afghanistan, as confirmed by the memories of her mother's death at the hands of the Taliban. However, this does not intimidate her. She continues her lessons with Meena, and understands that her education is the most important element in her life. The importance of learning helps to connect Meena to something larger than herself:
I looked down at the words I'd written on the paper. Words that were at once a thousand years old and yet completely new. I held them to my chest, but did not feel foolish for doing so. Somehow I felt Muallem would understand. My mother could write and read, this poem and more. I wanted to learn to do that too.
Similar to Mandela, Zulaikha becomes the agent of change in her world. Like Mandela, her actions represent transformation in a world that seeks to preach submission.