My driver was one of Nelson Mandela’s prison guards

September 29, 2011
Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa

I don’t do well driving on the left side of the road.  A lot of folks in North America and Europe think that it’s just those misguided Brits and Irish who drive on the left (i.e. ‘wrong’) side of the road… but truthfully it’s a big part of the world.

Much of Africa and Asia (including Thailand, Japan, Australia, India, and just about all of southern Africa) drives on the left. That’s why when I rent a car in this part of the world, I always make sure to get a manual transmission. Shifting with your left hand is a -constant reminder- to check your lane.

It’s also why I tend to hire a professional driver, especially for longer trips or when I’m not fully sure of where I’m going. In South Africa, I have two. The person I use when I’m in Johannesburg is appropriately named Lucky.  A few years ago, I left my wallet in the back of his car; I didn’t notice, and he only realized it when he returned home later.

Rather than relieving me of my stupidity, Lucky immediately drove back to my hotel through 2-hours of heavy Johannesburg traffic and returned my wallet to me. Lucky for me, as it were. That kind of honesty is a rare gem anywhere, especially in Africa.

In the Western Cape area, my driver is a terrifically fascinating person that I’ll call Henrik. In the late 1980s, Henrik was part of an elite military unit that saw action in South Africa’s Border War, an outgrowth of the Angolan Civil War that had been raging for more than a decade.

At the time, the US and Soviet Union supported opposing sides; this was a common tactic during the Cold War when both superpowers would arm, train, support, and unofficially fight alongside rival factions of foreign ‘proxy wars’. Such wars took place from Nicaragua to Israel, and southern Africa was just another front.

When the war ended, Henrik’s unit was disbanded and the military was downsizing. But as he had not yet completed his full enlistment, the government decided to transfer him to the prison service to finish out his obligation.

Henrik’s first assignment brought him face to face with none other than Nelson Mandela who had been serving hard time as a political prisoner since 1962.

Henrik has the most interesting stories about this experience… ranging from Mandela’s voracious appetite for non-fiction, to how the future president used to cheat when they would play checkers in the evening.

He’s fairly quiet and circumspect about it; Henrik seems to have a lot of misgivings about being forced by his government into a role that disagreed so much with his personal beliefs. I also believe he feels guilty for not taking a harder stand against such an injustice.

As he told me a few weeks ago in the car, “To be honest with you, Simon, I’m not even sure what they put him in jail for. I wasn’t sure then, and I’m not really sure now. I’m not even sure that Mr. Mandela was sure…”

The answer is simple: whatever technicality they could find.

By the early 1960s, Mandela was deemed an enemy of the state… a man who was agitating popular support to shake up the status quo. The government felt threatened by this, labeled him a terrorist, and brought up whatever charges they could find to toss him in a cell for life.

Officially, the charges were analogous to conspiracy and treason, essentially being unfaithful to one’s government and making plans to replace it. Frankly they would have thrown the book at him for anything– failure obtain a proper permit to operate a lemonade stand, dancing at a public monument, failure to file appropriate disclosure forms, etc.

The thing is, when your country has a body of laws that could fill an entire football stadium, you can always find half a dozen things to indict somebody on.

Let me put it even more clearly for our subscribers in the developed world. At this exact moment, you are guilty of multiple crimes and regulatory violations that you’ve never even heard of. Just pick up any government form and you’ll see– you can’t even apply for a passport without being threatened with imprisonment.

This is one of the things that concerns me the most about the state of the developed world: when you’re constantly guilty of victimless crimes, you’re not actually free.

The entire global economy is teetering on a precipice right now– defaults in Europe, spiraling deficits in the US, slowdown in China, etc. Economic collapse breeds social chaos, and we have already seen this with the multitude of Arab Spring revolutions this year.

Make no mistake, the western power elite will tighten its vice grip at all costs to maintain the status quo. They’ve made decades of mistakes for their benefit, and they’re sticking you with the bill.

You’ll see your taxes go up, your savings buy less, your regulatory burden increase, your opportunities dry up, and your freedoms decline. And you’d better like it, too. Make too much of a fuss and you’ll end up on somebody’s radar.

Ultimately, this is why I’m such a staunch advocate of internationalization. It’s also why I live this PT lifestyle). Few things are more important in this world than freedom, and I for one would happily forgo a Starbucks on every suburban street corner in order to be where I feel truly free.

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