Nelson Mandela Reflects on Working Toward Peace
was not born with a hunger to be free. I was born free-free
in every way that I could know. Free to run in the fields
near my mother's hut, free to swim in the clear stream that
ran through my village, free to roast mealies under the
stars and ride the broad backs of slow-moving bulls. As
long as I obeyed my father and abided by the customs of
my tribe, I was not troubled by the laws of man or God.
It was only when I began to learn that my boyhood freedom
was an illusion, when I discovered as a young man that my
freedom had already been taken from me, that I began to
hunger for it. At first, as a student, I wanted freedom
only for myself, the transitory freedoms of being able to
stay out at night, read what I pleased, and go where I chose.
Later, as a young man in Johannesburg, I yearned for the
basic and honorable freedoms of achieving my potential,
or earning my keep, of marrying and having a family-the
freedom not to be obstructed in a lawful life.
But then I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but
my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was
not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom
of everyone who looked like I did. That is when I joined
the African National Congress, and that is when the hunger
for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom
of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people
to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated
my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a
bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a
criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man
without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like
a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the
next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor
and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people
were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any
one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains
on all of my people were the chains on me.
It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger
for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the
freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as
I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just
as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another
man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind
the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly
free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as
surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me.
The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate
the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has
now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case.
The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved
the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We
have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first
step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be
free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live
in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried
not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I
have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill,
one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the
glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance
I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with
freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for
my long walk is not yet ended.
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