In 1985, Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela – then in his late 60s and having spent over 20 years in prison – was presented with an offer of conditional release by the Apartheid State in return for effectively giving up the struggle for the freedom & equality of all South Africans, a struggle against laws designed to persecute & oppress people based on something they could never choose: the colour of their skin. Madiba rejected the offer, and wrote a statement (part of which is quoted at the end of this text) to this effect from behind bars, which was read to the public by his daughter Zindzi.
The political freedom and equality that every South African (citizen & resident) now enjoys is a direct result of the price he and countless others paid – some with their lives. Mandela lived to see the freedom he fought for, and to be called to serve and lead as the first president of a free & democratic South Africa.
Today, former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma serves his fifth day of a prison sentence expected to last 15 months (with a possibility of being reduced to 5 months) for repeatedly defying orders given by judges & commissioners appointed by himself while serving as president of a free & democratic South Africa. Some of his own children are encouraging and inciting acts of unrest and anarchy that are taking place in parts of the country.
To be clear, Nxamalala has enjoyed the kind of political (and economic) privilege only afforded to those called to serve the nation at the highest levels.
To be clear, no-one with a head and a heart truly wants Nxamalala to have to serve time in jail at his age and stage of life.
To be clear, this situation was completely avoidable – if not by good counsel from his lawyers, or by his choosing to comply with the instructions given by the commission & courts, then certainly by his making an active effort to deal with the corruption that took place during his time in office. To neglect the power you are required to use is, in effect, to abuse it.
Once released from prison, Nxamalala may or may not lose some of the political privileges of his status as a former president (such as his state-provided security or salary), but he and his family will surely continue to enjoy the political and economic freedoms that he fought and worked for.
Those who destroy and set alight their communities to “#FreeZuma” do so in vain. Nxamalala is already free. His arrest, assuming the commission and courts judged fairly, is simply a consequence of the fact that he chose to use his freedom to frustrate the same justice system that works to protect the freedoms of all the people of this nation.
When you burn and loot – and when you incite others to do so – you abuse your own power; power which was bought with the efforts and the lives of those who fought for you to have it; power you are required to use to build your community & country for yourself and those you share it with.
Apartheid’s rule ended a generation ago. We are no longer oppressed. We have our freedom. Our responsibility now is to use our freedom to make good & consistent choices that will benefit us and those around us – politically, economically, and otherwise.
In the statement read by his daughter Zindzi, Madiba said:
“I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free…”