Fifty-five years ago on 9th October 1963 one of the most famous trials began in the Palace of Justice, Pretoria, South Africa. A freedom leader was, along with ten other colleagues, facing the possible death sentence standing accused of treason against the state. Those men had determined to bring an unjust system down.
Nelson Mandela, gave his own defence and the reason for the struggle, during the trial on 20 April 1964. He finished by saying “But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Standing in that court room over half a century later, had a lawyer who was there not said so, it would have been impossible to know that this was the venue of such a momentous event. No plaque, no guide book for sale or picture on the wall. Why? Probably because it remains a working court, where each day justice must be done and seen to be done without being swayed or distracted by whatever case has been heard before, however celebrated.
Of course, how justice is conceived and delivered will, in some way, be influenced by the memory of what took place then and in the subsequent 27 years as the continued long road to freedom was walked.
As Mandela departed, fist in the air, from his imprisonment in 1990 it gave hope to millions that change was going to come. And it has.
For many though justice still does not live up to the dream that most truly hoped for.
Life in all of southern Africa is very is different to what it was in the early 1960’s, but the stark reality of the huge challenges that still remain were told to a small group of lawyers in a room five minutes walk away from that courtroom. Only a quarter of an hour earlier, at a legal aid clinic, an advocate recounted the harrowing mornings interview with a family who were seeking justice for their seven year old child who had been brutally abused and molested, dying as a result.
In the neighbouring country of Mozambique, whose own struggle for independence started in 1964, the staff members at AMAC in 2018 are helping those seeking justice to get it. They speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, by providing legal assistance and advocacy to those who desperately need it, but whose circumstances mean they have no point or means of access. Clients often feel that justice is a long way off, but as Mandela demonstrated it is a road that must be walked, and often better walked together.
Another outspoken man around 2,700 years ago called those listening to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. It is a requirement that is constantly needed if we are to truly be the people we are made to be. Sadly the broken world we live in can’t live up to that ideal. Our human nature is sinful. Thankfully there was another freedom leader, who came to fix that. He believed fully in the task He had been sent to do and was prepared to, and did, die for it taking the justice and punishment we deserve on His shoulders, for those who accept His grace. For that I am eternally grateful.