Honoring Mandela: Freedom Isn’t Free



Aya Fubara Eneli, M.A., J.D.

Young Mandela Africa Fighting

Ida B. Wells-Barnett is famously quoted saying, “The price for freedom is eternal vigilance.” As we celebrate the life and contributions of Nelson ‘Madiba” Nelson, I can’t help but ask, “How free are we really?”

Nelson Mandela fought, went to jail and ultimately attained this revered and much deserved status because he was not only deeply concerned about the injustice against Blacks by Whites in apartheid South Africa, he was willing to lay down his life for his convictions. Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress  (ANC) in 1943. The ANC was founded in 1912 (6 years before Nelson Mandela’s birth) to unite the African people against white minority ruling. Their aim was always been to create a non-racial and democratic South Africa.

As a law student at The Ohio State University, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in African and African American History. I knew about apartheid and had participated in anti-apartheid rallies, but I had no clue of the extent of the oppression of black South Africans until I began more extensive study of African history.

Mandela Supporters Being Beaten

What I learned burdened my spirit. This wasn’t just history. The oppression and de-humanization of people based on their skin color was still very much accepted and I was mortified at what had been done and was still occurring to people who looked just like me. It was then I decided to do whatever I could to stand up for the dignity of my kind and all kind.

Similarly to the Black Codes of the United States of America, in the 1920s, the movements of black South Africans had been further restricted by pass laws. The South African government led by the apartheid-supporting National Party government under the leadership of Hendrik Verwoerd liberally employed  these laws to enforce greater segregation and poverty and, in 1959-1960, extended them to include women. From the 1960s, the pass laws were the primary instrument used by the state to arrest and harass its political opponents.

On March 21, 1960, an organized group of protestors gathered at the police station singing liberation songs and asking to be arrested since they did not have their passes. Estimates put the number of protestors at 5000 to 7000. However, this protest did not end peacefully and at least 69 black Africans were killed and 180 injured (there are claims of as many as 300) when South African police opened fire at the township of Sharpeville, near Vereeniging in the Transvaal. The Sharpeville Massacre, as the event has become known, signaled the start of armed resistance in South Africa, and prompted worldwide condemnation of South Africa’s Apartheid policies.”

Following the Sharpeville Massacre, it is noted that Mandela realized that peaceful protest was highly ineffective so he co-founded and became leader of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation branch of the ANC. I daresay that like abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, he too realized that power concedes nothing without a demand. If they wanted to be free in their own land, they had to be willing to lay down their lives for that freedom.

So, here we are in 2013 and I ask, “How free are we?” This year, we watched the Syrian government kill its own citizens with chemical weapons and we, the world, did nothing to save them. How free are we?


There is not a claim to freedom that has not exacted a price. Jesus, the son of God, had to lay down his life, for the freedom of those who will choose to believe him. He was organized. He recruited and he taught. He lived his beliefs. While I look forward to eternity in heaven, God has seen fit for me to still be on earth at this time, so there must be a role I am to play. That role must necessarily embrace and advance love of all humanity in more than just words. And that means I must be a voice against injustice anywhere!

Today, most African countries are embroiled in turmoil. Our resources are not our own – pillaged by both internal and external thieves with no conscience as the majority languish in abject poverty. Dark skinned people in the rest of the world aren’t faring that much better as we seem even more enslaved by our quest for material things and ignorance. Whoever you are reading this, where are the think tanks and the organizations solely focused on ensuring your liberty? Because if you have no watchmen/women, you have nothing.

Why do countries fight so hard for nuclear weapons? Because you don’t really own what you can’t protect! Today, we watched as our laws acquitted a man who admitted that he killed another who had in no way provoked the encounter. We marched and then we went back to our supposedly safe existence. How free are we?

nelson mandela fist

Nelson Mandela is so much more than a grey-haired lovable, smiling peacemaker. He is a revolutionary who demonstrated the courage to stand up for his belief in the humanity and dignity of Black Africans and all people. He paid a great price for his beliefs and while we revere his contributions and celebrate his life today, the truth is that Black Africans are still not free today. If anything, the chains of poverty and oppression that has spanned centuries seem to be tighter today than ever before and the disunity amongst Africans across the globe should have us all re-committing to his ideals not just in words, but in deed. So after you change your profile picture back to your image, tell me, what actions will you take against injustice?


Aya Fubara Eneli is a best-selling author, Christian Life Coach, Motivational Speaker and Attorney. Her life’s purpose is to empower and equip people to live up to their highest potential. She and her husband live in Central Texas with their five miraculous children. For more information, visit www.ayaeneli.com, follow her on twitter @ayaeneli or e-mail her at info@ayaeneli.com.