Nelson Mandela’s lessons of freedom, hard work and a reminder of why we do it

The word ‘free’ conjures up images and stories – in itself, ‘free’ is a fairly common one syllable word – there’s no fancy silent letters or characters. As a word, ‘free’ is nothing special.


But as a concept… as a concept ‘free’ is one of the most powerful, thought provoking, soul enticing words.

On the face of it the meaning of free seems so straight forward that you would not think to define – but on deeper inspection free can mean

  • without cost
  • without value
  • a state of being
  • an action taken

Freedom is something we can give, take away, take for granted, experience and lose – it’s intangible, but so essential.

South Africa The Good News / [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

South Africa The Good News / [CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Free” has been on my mind even more so this week – with such a juxtaposition of conversations about freedom in the media happening around us. We are reminded of what freedom means in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician  celebrating his 95th birthday yesterday. We admire the fight, the tenacity and the drive that, after spending 27 years in prison, he could then labour with his government to start the work to dismantle apartheid, tackle racism, poverty and inequality.

And, in the same moment we hear stories of asylum seekers, boats carrying people risking their lives, fleeing to what they hope is a safer place, fighting with a drive that has seem many (estimates sit at 1800 lost at sea since 2000) lose their lives on their own personal ‘road to freedom’.

Both these ‘freedom’ stories reminded me that the ‘work’ we do is often not for us, but for others. We work hard to ensure our family is looked after and provided for, to provide a better life for them, or to safeguard our future selves – to save for later, for a rainy day.

I am challenged and convicted by Mr Mandela’s words from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and am reminded to not take my freedom lightly or for granted.  As he said, later in life, his greatest desire was to

“Rest and spend more time with my children, my grandchildren and of course with my wife”

Nelson Mandela

So here’s to freedom, to spending time with the ones we love, to working hard, yes, but to labour knowing that our work is a means to bring joy through experiences, through creating lasting memories, to living out the desire to “rest” and spend time with our family, friends and those who are dear to us.

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