What do Free People look like?

By Thokozani Mhlambi

When Mandela and Tutu declared ‘Let us forgive one another!’ These words struck at the very foundation of white supremacy. Inherent in them was the central vision of the South Africa that was still-to-be-born. Reconciliation stood as a chief force which we, as black South Africans, would teach the world.

Indeed after the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, South Africa was to be the model and adviser to many other countries on transitional justice.[1] It simply left world leaders astounded, even our revolutionary friends in the African diaspora were speechless. Did we all agree to such a vision of reconciliation? Were we willing to forgive in such a selfless way at the time?

Now you may say, ‘It was the imperative that our God-given liberty demanded of us’. But were we  all ready for it? Had we counted the cost of doing so? Were we willing to defer our right to justice to the conscience of the oppressor and his god?

One thing for sure: we were all now wanting of peace. Mothers were eager to have their sons and daughters return from prison and exile. Elders were desperate to know where their relatives had been buried. We wanted a functioning economy, and jobs—we wanted to work. But was it not perhaps too soon? Should we not have waited a few more years, that the line between the oppressor and the oppressed could be demarcated once and for all? These are terrible questions to be asking 20 years down the line!

What would have happened had our leaders consulted with us first before taking on a posture of sainthood and reconciliation? Had we been given a clearer indication of the cost of our freedom, would we  still have agreed?

There is a lesson here for those who aspire to lead: in pursuing the right decision, leaders need to be sensitive to the  frame-of-mind of the people whom they serve. Even the right choice can be radically undermined if the people are not yet ready for it. That’s why the early Israelites in the bible, had to roam the wilderness for 40 years before they could enter the Promised Land. Although they had been released from the hand of the Egyptian Pharaoh, their mentalities were still in bondage. They did not behave like people who were now free. They simply did not have the courage and sense of responsibility which a free life demands, their collective memories were still filled with the terror of oppression.

As a result of their enslaved mentality, God had to supply them with handouts; He gave them manna bread to eat every morning and ensured that the clothes they had did not wear out. Now to switch back to our present situation, the child support grants, the old-age grants, are these not versions of our own manna, now being handed-out by the government?

There is hope in the story of the early Israelites: the handouts did not go on forever. A time came when the people were ready to fight, but the generation who had suffered the apartheid of Pharaoh had to die first. That is when the nation could enter the Promised Land.

Now what do free people look like? Free people are not afraid to make mistakes, but they are also open to course-correction where mistakes have been made. Their fate is not in the hands of “international investors”, they wait for no one when it comes to implementing. Free people learn from experience, they are not dazzled by the prospect of newness. They are keen observers and strive for understanding phenomena.  They know that their freedom cannot be bought (transactioned) with money; that it requires self-examination and diligent effort to resist manipulation and overcome self-interest. It takes sacrifice.


[1] See International Centre for Transitional Justice <http://ictj.org/our-work/regions-and-countries/south-africa>

4 Comments on What do Free People look like?

  1. Kings or Presidents? Did a couple of black guys with scholarships come up with their own solutions to rule without us the people who love the rulership of the king so much. After the bondage, they were like those that dream… yes we understand. But it does not mean we are dum enough to not know who to trust as a king. However. The reality remains. That we are the real government. Not the political party we voted for but the one government that will always remain. This is the government run by a collective untamed thought. No votes will put this government to power because it is always existing. Political parties will always fight to rule this private un articulated government. That has all the people to vote for its own king and they way of life. The middle man political party is a waste of civic operations. Just like the people with God so it should be with the people and its governing leader.

    • Thank you for your response. You have gotten me thinking. I am wondering what the implication is of government as something that is “always existing”, as you say, and as a stand-in for the government of God, who governs the Universe. For me my biggest fear has been to stand and be without God–a kind of lawlessness that I have aspired to at some stage in my life. There was a deep wanting in me to rebel, to rebel against authority, to rebel against society, in the kind of way that expresses a desire to be “ungoverned”, and ultimately to be without God. Thanks to Him, and the restraining influence of His Spirit, that those who live lives as though they were without God, they were without a Creator, are in themselves, even with their rebellion, still under that restraining influence that holds the world together, and has defended us (as our own worst enemy) from complete self-destruction. “There is nothing new under the sun”, as the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 1:9

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