The Freedom to be Me


Freedom: what is it, and how does it link to happiness.



Nelson Mandela's account shows similar traits. He for example, wrote in his autobiography: “[In prison] you must find consolation in being true to your ideals, even if no one else knows of it. I was now on the sidelines, but I also knew that I would not give up the fight... We would fight inside as we had fought outside. The racism and repression were the same; I would simply have to fight on different terms.

I found,” he said, “solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life... Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? (...) But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one's spirits strong when one's body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full when your stomach is empty.”

More than once in Mandela's story, the courage and resoluteness behind his experiences shine through. Towards the end of his twenty-seven years prison sojourn, the South Africa government relaxed some terms of his incarceration. As he relates, “In May 1984, I found some consolation that seemed to make up for the discomforts. On a scheduled visit from Winnie, [my daughter], and [my granddaughter], I was escorted by Warrant Officer Gregory who, instead of taking me to the normal visiting area, ushered me into a separate room where there was only a small table, and no dividers of any kind. He very softly said to me that the authorities had made a change. That day was the beginning of what were known as 'contact' visits... Winnie actually got a fright when Gregory escorted her around the door and before either of us knew it, we were in the same room and in each other's arms. It was a moment I had dreamed about a thousand times. It was as if I were still dreaming. I embraced my daughter and then took [my granddaughter] onto my lap. It had been twenty-one years since I had even touched my wife's hand.”

I really should, here, pay respect to people who have been victims of political oppression. Their experiences hold a lot to learn from, not only about courage and other prime qualities, but also about man himself. As with Mr. Mandela, their set target directed their decisions. Mr. Mandela’s going to prison and choosing to remain there was a continuous exercise of his free will. He could have chosen to return to normal life but that would have entailed giving up his goal and going against his convictions.

By the same token, the athlete has their eye set on the prize and will refrain from undertakings, even if licit, that would detract from his performance. The parent would place the education and upkeep of the children as top priority before many other diverting things. A person would orientate their life in keeping with what they perceives to be the ultimate aim of their existence. Which all goes to say that my free will would then have what is commonly called a sense - or conviction - of purpose.


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A Sense of Purpose

Fela Kuti was a world-famous activist musician of immense artistic and intellectual talent, who invented the genre, Afrobeat, and was a constant thorn in the flesh of Nigeria’s autocratic military governments. He had studied at one of the world’s most prestigious colleges of music - Trinity College, London - disregarding his paying parents' instructions that he study medicine.


Fela Kuti

Musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist

1938 - 1997


Fela insisted that Africa’s dictators "are able to perpetuate their atrocities on us only because the people themselves are always too terrified to act. [Our people] hold on so much to empty, mundane things, that they forsake their manhood. And it is in such circumstances that oppression thrives.”

He would end up imprisoned on several occasions, for months (years in one instance) at a time. In the most serious of what were frequent attacks, armed soldiers one morning invaded his residence (a sprawling estate of high-rise buildings which he had named Kalakuta Republic), brutalized his family, arrested him and several of his band, then completely destroyed his multimillion dollar property and buildings, razing everything to the ground. Among these was a feature film project he had already expended millions on. His septuagenarian mother subsequently died of injuries sustained when she was thrown out of a window. The government, after a stitched-up investigation, blamed it all on the actions of unknown soldiers, and no restitution or rebuke came of the matter.

Yet that did not deter him, and emerged only another item in his catalogue of government reprisals. His vehemence and bluntness, Fela knew only too well, was open invitation to trouble. In pursuing this theme or self-assigned mission, he paid for his frankness, and dearly so. "Ooooooooh!," he offered, recalling the first of the numerous attacks, "I was beaten by police! So much... How can a human being stand so much beating with clubs and not die?"

"The only thing I want people of this country to know,” he had said, “is that if this kind of thing happens to me, what would happen to the ordinary man in the street who has no influence? That has been my only worry in my political struggles."

Few African public personalities endured as many reprisals and barbarities as Fela. That in itself is a strong testimony to his conviction of purpose. He had experienced, in his words, "over three hundred cases, detentions, court appearances". In a 1986 interview, he submitted that, “I do not suffer just for my own sake, but for the poor people of this country that have been disenfranchised. We are just beginning the fight, and I for my life will not let them down.”

Fela Kuti, therefore, correctly identifies one of the essential attributes of freedom: the fact that it implies a conscious and deliberate self-determination towards an objective; a result of having made an intelligent (i.e. reasoned) choice. It is impossible to adequately employ one's freedom, if it isn't oriented towards a set goal. Only when there is such a goal or set of goals, can my free will be used intelligently. It would choose the options that move me nearer the goal and reject those that do not.



Nelson Mandela


1918 - 2013