“Freedom? You’re asking me about freedom? You’re asking me about freedom? I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole more about what freedom isn’t than about what it is, because I’ve never been free.” – Assata Shakur
As I pen this article, I am overwhelmed with emotion and trepidation at the thought of change. It’s hard to think that all that has been familiar to me these past five years will be but a marker in my life’s timeline. You see – this is my last day with my current employer. When I first entered the doors; bright eyed, with the wind in my sails and the glint in my eye, I could not hold the sheer excitement of the genesis of my career as a budding attorney. I did not know it then, but this adventure would yield significant moments of introspection as the impactful words of my former jurisprudence lecturer and the man who delivered the commencement speech at my law degree graduation (Professor Firoz Cachalia) rang in my ear – “an LLB is a tool for social justice”.
“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood and enjoy equal rights and opportunities.” – These famous words are immortalised in the opening paragraph of the Freedom Charter of 1955. As that statement imbued my mind, the unanswered cries from 1955 burnt a cold thought. In this moment, I had to take into account my privilege in having the ability to reflect on moments in my career, to make life decisions based on what I have, who I am and where I am – a freedom not afforded to many South Africans today.
So, what is this elusive thing called freedom? Following her dramatic escape from a prison, having been convicted of a crime she could not have committed – Assata Shakur sought to explain a concept she had never experienced:
“I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is. The way I see it, freedom is– is the right to grow, is the right to Blossom. Freedom is the right to be yourself, to be who you are, to be who you wanna be, to do what you wanna do”
As elementary as Assata’s words may seem, it is a wretched reality knowing that not all seeds bloom. For seeds to grow, they require the appropriate biological conditions, however, such conditions must be sustainable.
As I continue to reflect and enjoy the freedom within my grasp, I am fortunate that my upbringing provided me with an understanding of the disturbing impact of South Africa’s racist apartheid laws on mine, the lives of those around me as well as the greater South African community. Thinking back to my childhood, the law represented something which sought to divide and discriminate. No greater symbol brought about the possibility of the liberties set out in the Freedom Charter than Nelson Mandela’s raised fist outside of Victor Verster prison in 1990. This catalyst of change and improved life for all South Africans was well articulated in Hip Hop Panstula’s (“HHP”) song Harambe when he stated:
“Never been called a kaffir before / Can’t imagine seeing 10 cops and dogs charging through my front door / Can’t say what teargas smells like / Can’t even imagine what a rubber bullet on your back felt like / Can’t imagine holding guns in my palms / Can’t imagine ke go bona carrying Hector Peterson in your arms”
The changing tide bore beauty like the rose that grew from concrete. With scratched petals and a crooked stem, these freedoms to be enjoyed by all South Africans seemed to prove natures laws wrong.
Unfortunately, HHP’s world has not been realised by all South Africans since Madiba raised his hand. The fight for many other freedoms such as the right to decent healthcare (the Esidimeni patients), the right to fair labour practices (the Marikana miners), the right to decent housing (Grootboom) and the right to receive an education (Fees Must Fall) has been met with brutal actions HHP thought he would not see in his lifetime.
So here I am – my experience has led me to a place where I know that I have a continuing responsibility to transform the world around me and to further the ongoing struggle for social justice. My country is still a long way from becoming a just society which upholds the spirit and purport of the Freedom Charter and our beloved Constitution. As I transition from one phase of my life to another, I should not fear, but relish the opportunity to learn new ways of wielding this tool that I am fortunate to have. What must remain consistent and resolute is the pursuit of social justice and freedoms denied to fellow South Africans. A wise man called James Baldwin once said:
“Words like ‘freedom’, ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ are not common concepts; on the contrary, they are rare. People are not born knowing what these are. It takes enormous, and above all, individual effort to arrive at the respect for other people that these words imply.”
By Lebo Phaladi
Lebo is a qualified attorney who has been practicing competition / anti-trust law over the last 5 years. He is passionate about helping people and advocating for fair and equal rights. Lebo is an avid knowledge seeker and has a deep love for God, hip-hop and film. More importantly Lebo loves the African continent and its people and hopes to make positive sustainable changes with his contributions to society.