Another of those ‘went nowhere, saw nobody, did nothing’ days that go to make up this writer’s life. The ending of my latest fiction has derailed and I am not sure how to fix it.
A former friend of mine, a raging alcoholic ( that was me once: ‘raging’) has done a geographical escape from a somewhat flat and unlovely farming metropolis in the north-east of South Africa only to find she is still stuck with herself and her bottle, and now she is sending me a stream of woeful but drunkenly incoherent and melodramatic emails, pleading for sympathy and attention. Her ex-husband is sending me equally incoherent and maudlin emails because he is hopelessly addicted to the melodramas generated by her alcoholism. He wants her back but without her bottle, her on-and-off lover, her spendthrift ways, her lies, her bills, her flirtatiousness, her sodden rages, her bottle. She wants a new life in which she can go on playing the starring role plus the on-and-off lover as well as the husband, insists that the bottle is just a temporary necessity while she deals with the anguished love triangle. The on-and-off lover is drinking all by himself somewhere in a lonely fisherman’s cottage and at any moment he too will begin emailing me, fortified with Dutch courage. Each of my correspondents proclaims that this situation is unbearable, intolerable, insufferable, but not one of them is ready to stop the charade. None of them will notice that I am not responding. My life may be a trifle dull, but it is a life that makes sense to me.
’I am trapped,’ writes the geographical escapee from the depths of her ever-present bottle, ‘it feels as if there no no way out of this prison. I feel I am condemned to live behind bars.’
We create our own prisons. That was the great insight of Immanuel Kant at the start of what would become known as the Enlightenment: ‘Enlightenment is the emancipation of a human being from a state of self-imposed tutelage.’
To be detained or incarcerated may take away material and physical liberty, but freedom is something else. I have been thinking recently about the free spirit found in the prison literature of Albie Sachs, one of South Africa’s greatest judges of the Constutional Court here.
Justice Sachs gained international attention in 2005 when the Court overthrewSouth Africa’s statute defining marriage to be between one man and one woman as a violation of the Constitution’s general mandate for equal protection for all and its specific mandate against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Justice Sachs is also recognized for the development of the differentiation between constitutional rights in three different degrees or generations of rights.
Sachs, a young South African barrister, who made a name for himself defending people prosecuted under the apartheid laws, was arrested on 1 October, 1963, under the Ninety Days Law, which permitted the detention of a person without charge for this period. On the 90th day he was freed, but only for a few minutes before being re-arrested and held for another 78 days, at which point he was released without any charge being brought against him.
During the 168 days of his imprisonment (the longest term that any white person had been detained under the Ninety Days Law) Albie Sachs was kept in solitary confinement. No human contact , no news of family.
On his release he went into exile in England and then Mozambique. In Maputo, Mozambique in 1988, he lost his arm and his sight in one eye when a bomb was placed in his car by South African security agents. After the bombing, he devoted himself to the preparations for a new democratic constitution for South Africa. He returned to South Africa and served as a member of the Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the African National Congress.
In 1991 he won the Alan Paton Award for his book Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter. The book chronicles his response to the 1988 car bombing. He is also the author of Justice in South Africa (1974), The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs (1966), Sexism and the Law (1979), The Free Diary of Albie Sachs (2004), and, most recently, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (2009).
On 8 July 2008 Sachs was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree bythe University of Ulster in recognition of his contribution to human rights and justice globally.
We create our own prisons and when we step out at last into the sunlight of the spirit we realise that nobody can deprive us of freedom without our consent, our willingness to remain enslaved.