Nelson Mandela is on his deathbed as I write this. Tomorrow he may be physically gone from this world. There has never been another icon so pertinently attributed to freedom.
Freedom means many things to many people. To Mandela it meant freeing people from the chains of Apartheid and allowing them to live their lives. Sadly, many have not been freed from the chains of poverty and violence that still bind them.
I have felt freedom in my own life, in my decision to travel around Europe, explore the world and more recently, to accept a job in the Netherlands. South Holland has presented an uncanny sense of freedom, one that I certainly am not used to as a South African.
I’m used to burglar bars, alarm systems, private security companies and being vigilant left, right and centre. Watching, expectedly for thieves, burglars, rapists and murderers is a life I am accustomed to. What a strange life to now feel so abnormal in such a normal country that is the Netherlands.
Yesterday I observed something that honestly made my jaw drop. A mother cycling with her young child sitting in what is called a bakfiets turned down my road. Many mothers cycle with a bakfiets here. Her child was fast asleep in an upright position in the wooden box on the front-end of the bicycle. She cycled without a care in the world towards her front door. And when she parked her bicycle, she didn’t even lock it, she simply picked up her child, kissed him on the cheek, put him gently on her shoulder and walked inside the house. This boggled my mind. I stood there watching as she lovingly lifted her sleeping child out of the box and motioned inside – such a natural, simple act would be threatened in many parts of South Africa.
In fact, had this been anywhere in South Africa, the bakfiets would be claimed within seconds, dismantled, spray-painted in a completely different colour and would quite frankly be unrecognizable. It would be ready for resale almost instantly. It may also be smelted down and repurposed, depending of course on the thief’s business motives.
A lump in my throat formed that afternoon. Am I truly free unlike many South Africans who struggle each and every day for survival? I considered tremendous amounts of guilt that had somewhat consumed me upon arrival in this country of poppies, bicycles, windmills and carefree living.
But what does freedom really mean. Now that I am here I sometimes think that I am no less free because I have to deal with the guilt of leaving and that in itself is painful.
Consider: is freedom the ability to walk down the road normally and not worry that you will be robbed or stuck with a knife? Does freedom mean you as a woman are able to walk around in your suburb without being accosted by men or even raped?
What does freedom mean now that Nelson Mandela is on his deathbed? He has sacrificed his life working towards freedom but the problem is overriding. The statistics tell the honest tale of freedom in the ‘New’ South Africa, one that leaves me with a lump in my throat but sadly, with a choice (somewhat half-heartedly) to be free.