It is a public holiday here in South Africa, Freedom Day, commemorating the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. The day when black people could vote for the first time ever in South African history. Freedom may be an elusive concept, but you know when it is not there, when you are unfree, trapped, living without hope. Some of us create our own prisons, re-creating one locked room after another inside our own heads — others create prisons for those around us, in the belief that we are controlling them, ridding ourselves of them, keeping them safe. Chilling thoughts for an autumn morning.
My Internet is crashing and I have no email access again but I keep trying to post and sooner or later I will be lucky. When I’m not tinkering with the computer, I’m curled up on the sofa in sunshine reading the Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell who holds up a mirror to crime in order to show what is really happening in society. In this way he probes what lies beneath the surface, raising all kinds of questions about justice and morality, how democracy works, how democracy can be undermined, human greed and the long vengeful shadows cast by war.
The surgeon was thrilled by my housemate’s recovery from the knee replacement surgery. He scoffed at her complaints of pain and stiffness, pointing out that she is able to walk without crutches and is just impatient. Another eight months and she will be walking, hopping, skipping dancing. Such a relief to hear this! The housemate is now able to drive and has gone visiting, showing off her new mobility. The freedom to move around, get exercise, walk up and down hills and stairs.
Each morning when I wake up I celebrate another kind of freedom. For so long I was in thrall to alcohol, enslaved by its power to change my inner reality. Each day revolved around nausea and illness from drinking too much the night before. My past was like a dark cupboard filled with unmentionable secrets and bad memories. I was haunted by all that had happened during the long dark love affair with drink. And I had to drink each day, there was no choice there. Only another drink could solve the problems caused by drink. So each day on waking I would wait until the hangover receded and then begin drinking again, adding to the bad memories, the sense of waste, the vicious circle. I had a shame-bound existence that was unfree, choiceless, hopeless. And then finally I admitted that I was powerless and asked for help. And as if by magic, there was a key to unlock the door and I could take my first steps into a new life. Like many of us, I did not know what freedom was until I found myself completely unfree and powerless. Now I wake up each morning tasting freedom like a refreshing mouthful of pure cold water.