Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the struggle against apartheid was anchored on his clear understanding of the need for freedom of speech. Even his detractors admit that he regarded this freedom as irreducible, even during his 18 year imprisonment on Robben Island, where some stringent voices aimed to rebut his calm advice on ANC strategy and tactics. Soon after his release in February 1990, writers such as Nadine Gordimer, Vikram Seth, Wole Soyinka, Joyce Carol Oates, Nurrudin Farah, and June Jordan collaborated in an anthology called Colours of a New Day. Understanding the power of the word, Mandela wrote the foreword: “The lyrics and melodies of musicians, the poems and stories of writers have shown in the most graphic way how apartheid is abhorred and condemned by all progressive humankind.”

Mandela’s work in the ANC—work which saw the burgeoning of the arts in South Africa in the period he was president—was rooted in his own intolerance with strictures. Many a time he chided officialdom in instances where voices—even voices in opposition to his own party—have been threatened.

One wants to believe that the building blocks towards the democracy that he championed throughout his life can only be strengthened. There will be attempts here and there—human beings being so fickle and susceptible to power and its trappings—for some of Mandela’s colleagues to tinker with these freedoms, including freedom of speech. But people like him have created in the South African society such an intolerance for any form of censorship that these attempts will come to naught. The chains being wrought by some of those in positions of power will simply shrivel into foil. Mandela’s instinct for freedom lives on.