Born-frees, the first generation born after the end of apartheid into a democratic South Africa, grew up at the same pace as their country. This generation carries not only the responsibilities and memories of poverty and struggle, but also that of their country, and the responsibility for its future.
South Africa has an incredibly progressive Constitution and discrimination of any kind is prohibited, but this has not prevented Mandela’s dreams of a rainbow nation from fading. Although race no longer directly determines every aspect of life in South Africa, from the schools you can attend to the buses you can use, for many South Africans it still plays a major role in determining their future.
Instead of the rainbow nation, South Africa has been called a “cappuccino society” by Panashe Chigumadzi, editor of Vanguard magazine. In an interview with BBC for an article titled “Why South Africa’s born-free generation is not happy”, Chigumadzi described South African society as, “A vast, huge, black majority at the bottom with a layer of white cream and a few chocolate sprinklings at the top of it.”
South Africa has the third-highest income inequality in the world – a gap that grew since the end of apartheid – not only lying between the rich and the poor but between races as well, with the majority of whites being relatively wealthy and blacks remaining relatively poor. In an article by TheSouthAfrican,com titled “45% of South Africa is poor: a look at our stats on World Poverty Day”, it was reproted that 54% of those living in poverty are black, and only 0.8% are white. In his book Run Racist Run: Journeys into the Heart of Racism, political commentator Eusebius McKaiser said, “Not all whites were or are perpetrators of anti-black racism.” However, he added that “all whites benefited and still benefit from the history of anti-black oppression”.
Unemployment statistics also paint a dismal picture, with whites far more likely to be employed than their black counterparts. DA leader Mmusi Maimane said, “The reality is that unemployment among black South Africans stands at 39% compared to 8.3% among whites.” There is also inequality in education. According to a report published by the South African Institute of Race Relations, 60% of whites aged 20 to 24 are enrolled for higher education compared to only 14% of blacks
The born frees are fighting to escape the cycle of generations of poverty and are taking the empty promises of politicians into their own hands. Tertiary students have taken to the streets recently, protesting not only fee hikes but the slow progress of transformation in universities since the end of apartheid. These students are keenly aware of how slow the social and economic transformations of their country have been. According to the 2015 QS World University Rankings, South Africa’s tertiary institutions are ranked among the best in the world, however, according to a report published on Africa Check titled How many professors are there in SA?, although their students may be increasingly diverse, only 14% of South Africa’s professors are black.
UP SRC member with the study finance portfolio Luvuyo Menziwa said, “There is no such thing as a born-free. That term is [a] fallacy because what happened during apartheid still continues to happen. The only difference is that there is no more physical violence but systemic violence.” He said that although progress has been made in access to higher education, it is still limited because of financial exclusion. Menziwa also said that born-frees are faced with challenges of extreme poverty, high crime rates in townships, police brutality, and “a weak education system that indoctrinates them to believe that the only thing they are good for is to work for someone else, instead of being equipped to establish and start their own companies.”
Despite thie obvious challenges and the engagement demonstrated by the recent university protests, the born-free generation is often criticised for being apathetic to their country’s history. They are labelled as complainers who take the struggles of those before them for granted. In a lecture given at Unisa titled “Who the nation is and how do we foster a culture of responsibility among the so-called born frees?”, Dr Tim Murithi, head of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, said, “The born-frees suffer from a culture of entitlement and refuse to carry responsibilities. The first line of engagement in rebuilding SA should be at the educational level. The second is at the local community level, and the third is at the workplace, government, trade unions, private sector and civil society. There needs to be an attitudinal shift and self-monitoring if we are to rebuild South Africa.”
Although progress has been slow and there are obvious challenegs ahead, there have been positive changes. More people than ever before have access to clean water and electricity, and the black middle class is growing rapidly.
Born-frees are South Africa’s future. They have an influence on the country and they are working to make it better. The leaders of student organisations and political parties are preparing to be leaders of South Africa, and they will carry their goals of completing South Africa’s transformation with them.
Image: Shen Scott