Freedom is in your head

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“I’m a person who believes I can be anything I want to be” says Nkululeko Mdladla cheerfully. Being named for South Africa’s most historic moment certainly helps! Born in April 1994, Nkululueko is a ‘freedom baby’. Named by his late father, Nkululeko translates as freedom.

The full moon, fried mushrooms, mountain streams and bright green are a few of Nkululeko’s favourite things. Quite likely, these things were his father’s favourites too, despite South Africa being a very different place before the 1990’s. Nowadays, Nkululeko has other things to worry about rather than racism. “Life on Earth is great in 2013”, he says “but what will be left in 2020? We are running out of natural resources and it is up to our generation to use resources wisely to ensure there is a sustainable future for all.” While Nkululelo did not have to toyi-toyi to free Mandela, he did join the March for Climate Justice at COP17. For many years, he has been an active member of his school eco-club and thrives on the camaraderie and sense of purpose this creates. “I feel free when I am surrounded by people I can trust, who show me love and give me support. Freedom is a gift from others.”

He acknowledges that being unfree in other ways, as was the case during apartheid, would influence one’s thinking. “It must be hard to be a shining star when there are so many restrictions. I can’t imagine what it was like not to be able to go where you wanted or do something you felt like doing. I hear the elders talking about those apartheid days – it seems amazing and strange.” When he was younger, he did worry about not finishing school, but his mother always encouraged him, saying “You young people are lucky now.” Nkululeko, in Grade 12 this year, is very proud of his school, Shea O’Connor Combined, which promotes values of inclusivity, tolerance and kindness. Last year, Nkululeko was part of the team mentored by Caversham Press which made a short movie about this topic entitled “Our Place in the World” Nkululeko intends becoming a filmmaker when he finishes school. “When you are relaxed, watching a movie you feel free. I want to make people forget their worries for a time and dream.” Combining his love of photography and nature means he has an opportunity to influence attitudes about the issues he is passionate about. “I’ve always liked being in front of the camera,” he laughs, “but now I have discovered it is even more fun to be the one taking the pictures.”

Everyone has a right to feel free. “Even plants have a right to water and care and animals have right to live.” he concludes.