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Distortions of who “born frees” are will isolate the majority of our youth (By Gugu Ndima)

September 21, 2013

“Let the Mandela generation decide if they are really free”

I have been battling to pen this piece for a while now; I continuously had the urge to write about perceptions I have heard on various platforms on who the “born frees” are, their character and ways of interaction. Normally it’s not this generation itself that gives these imageries, but mostly seniors based on their observation of their immediate children and their acquaintances.

The commonality or recurrent portrayal in all these presentations about the “born-free” generation is that their class allocation has been ignorantly placed within the middle class stratum. An assumption is made that they are all or mostly, technologically savvy, spend most of their time on social networks and are supposedly informed about a number of things. We can’t dispute the fact that indeed we do have a lot of young people who have access to such facilities and indeed they are very active on social platforms, but seemingly sensationalism has superseded reality and common parlance in our analysis.

The trigger came to me when I met Noluthando a 19 year old young lady on my way to work. We took the same taxi and she happened to sit next to me. She shyly asked for directions as she said she was on her way to an interview; I accompanied her to Eloff Street in Johannesburg CBD. At some point her cell phone rang and it was far from the techno savvy phones most young people seem to have according to these perceptions.

She hurried behind me as we moved towards her destination close to Ghandi square, naturally I probed about her journey and she shyly told me she was going to look for a job as a call centre agent and had been called for an interview. Her voice had an undertone of pessimism; however I betrayed my thirst to probe further so that she doesn’t assume I am nosey.

We exchanged numbers; I then asked she gives me a call when she is done as I work down the road. Her clothes were far from the trendy clothes we see on adverts and media modelled by the so called born frees, her outlook was nothing like the “YO-TV” brigade and her eyes screamed help.

In no time she sent a call back message and we met again at the same spot; there were also a number of other youngsters her age in a quest to get this job advertised. Her gentle eyes filled up with tears as she agonizingly explicated that this was a money making scam and they were required to pay training and this does not guarantee placement in any job. She had used the last money she had from her mom, who is a domestic worker to get here.

This scam sadly has benefited immensely from young desperate people fresh from matric desperately seeking employment. I then wondered if social distance isn’t an ailing cancer amongst many people especially leaders who seemingly assume that all things are “free and fair” amongst born frees, conveniently forgetting that the majority of these youngsters are descendants of the working class and the poor who involuntarily inherit socio-economic disparities which their mothers and fathers are equally subjected to.

Another hard hitting reality that Noluthando shared was the fact that she has a five month old baby at home and lives in a shack with her brother and mom. Her father passed away three years ago and the father’s best friend has attempted numerously to take advantage of her due to her conditions; as she mentions this she weeps. I couldn’t ask further as it seemed as if the man whomever the animal is probably won in his quest or the intimidation has advanced.

Now Noluthando’s story isn’t unique in South Africa and probably many young people can relate to her agony and frustrations and some have probably encountered far more severity. The class distortions around born frees and what they seemingly represent are a dangerous and potentially alienating tool to the young generation that still needs to be freed from the bondages of poverty.

Our apportionment of “born frees” in society is sadly informed by sensationalism in the media and a social media craze which has made us believe that all of them seemingly exist there. Are they really born free; this is one of the most complex questions confronted by Society and leaders of South Africa today. Firstly there has to be an all-inclusive assessment and contextualisation of who exactly are born frees.

South African society is vastly characterised by class inequalities, socio economic disparities and a number of miscellany elements; therefore the assumption that every child or youth born in 1994 was born in the same opportunities or class segment is intellectually and economically flaw.

Yes they will never be subjected to virulent political brutality, however will this generation be afforded access to opportunities which will secure their future? Isn’t economic marginalisation a new form of brutality; which has the same ability to strip one of his or her dignity just like apartheid did systemically?

We seem to have conveniently overlooked the so called born free, who is in a juvenile section or a cell in prison in Boksburg or Suncity, surviving brutality of the excruciating conditions of prison without parental guidance or family support. We have forgotten about the so called born free who washes taxi’s in the cold weather to fend for himself and buy his next pair of Converse sneakers.

The “bornfree” heading a house in a dilapidated shack with no sense of hope, the “bornfree” who has been introduced to prostitution due to socio economic conditions, the “bornfree” sleeping with a man old enough to be his grandfather because her immediate circumstances have robbed her of prospects and her will to see better for herself.

The born free who has just started experiencing the trauma of labour broking in the retail sector and call centre industry, the born free who has just started in the taxi industry , the born free married off to a man old enough to be his father, the born free who has been rejected by an institution of higher learning because he has no money to register, the born free who has been forced to start working at an early age as he or she has no parents; the born free on a Free State or Western Cape wineyard farm being exploited by a white farmer, the born free on a construction site not knowing if he will get paid or not, the born free who has lost a father in Marikana, the born free in a mine as we speak drilling rock for white monopoly capital.

The born free labelled is’khothane, desperately trying to fit in a crass materialist trend as all possible role models to inspire him to see better, in his neighbourhood have fled to the suburbs and become arm chair critiques of government.

The born free pushing a trolley in taxi ranks hustling to getting passengers to use his services, the born free mopping floors on Adriaan Basson’s floor at Shoprite earning R8 per hour. The born free advised by his uncle to take a code 14 driver’s license to join him in the trucking business as he sees nothing better for him because of the surrounding realities.

The born free you pass at the robots everyday begging for change, with white traces on his lips from the glue he smokes to escape his reality. The “bornfree” who has been absorbed as a domestic worker helping her mother as she sorely watches fellow “bornfrees” of the madam and baas enjoy fruits of democracy.

In simple terms we have forgotten the descendant of the loyal volunteer who remains patriotic despite odds against him and her and unintentionally elevated the savvy born free who must be convinced to vote in 2014 even if he/she is enjoying the fruits of democracy.

I sarcastically place “born-free” behind these descriptions because this paints a bleak picture of the stark realities of many born frees who would be insulted to be assumed born free. Free from what exactly when many of their realities are characterized by tormenting socio-economic conditions.

This isn’t unique to rural communities, in fact urban townships are more ailing for the born free generation, given the crass materialism displayed around them and peer pressures prevalent in communities.
The reality is that born frees, as loosely conceptualised, are subjected to a new form of political and economic challenge.

This is in line fundamentally, with access to equal opportunities in education and the economy. The reality is that we find Born-frees in all segments and classes of society, in farms, villages, informal settlements and so forth. And the majority of them are descendants of the working class and the poor who will probably live just like their parents are living and freedom will still be a myth for most of them as their struggle is about their economic survival.

The greater challenge now is that economic emancipation won’t be a reality for all of them, given some of the circumstantial tribulations they find themselves subjected to. We still have a problem of admission to education and access to the main stream economy which ideally should be accessed by all.

Most of them will matriculate and have nothing to do post matric. So what exactly do we understand about our connotations of freedom in the current dispensation, especially for the Born free generation. I recently came across a slogan from the born frees who refused to be labelled as born frees, they call themselves the Mandela generation, which in my view is politically correct as yes indeed they were born when Tata Madiba became President and democracy dawned upon us.

For me it asserts that they have identified themselves as a generation and their identity is one which seeks to properly define their struggle today. They are not naïve of their veracities and their hurdles ahead. I believe this born free label should not be imposed on them by people who might have distorted views of who they are and what they represent for the future.

Well as for my generation (not so free), the biggest solecism we could ever make in betraying the Mandela generation, is if we fail to heed the clarion call of economic freedom in our lifetime, if we fail to accept that economic freedom is a generational call and not a political gimmick slogan, then we are doomed and we would have killed the Mandela generation.

Lest we be illusive about the Mandela generation and assume that all is well, we must fight for their access to quality education, we must be resolute in calling for the total ban of labour brokers and fight for access to the mainstream of the economy.

No Mandela child must remain shackled in the same perverse economic constraints as we have and our mothers and fathers have. The Mandela generation in fact will determine how far we have come as a country; their success or demise will be the yardstick of our policies, the advancement of the NDR and whether indeed we are moving towards economic freedom.

However if none can say my life is better, then let’s stop calling them born frees and accept that we would have betrayed their futures .We should be instrumental in guiding them, and instrumental in shaping their future. Even if there are global influences, we must ensure that we remind them of who they are their identity and the bestowed responsibility they have towards building the ideal South Africa we espouse. This can only be realised if we don’t betray our cause.

They have platforms to speak their minds; they actually even have platforms to challenge the system on things they don’t agree in. However lets be reminded of many others that don’t have this privilege and are silently being tormented by their realisms.

In conclusion, we the generation that must realise economic freedom will determine how the future of born frees (Mandela generation) unfolds through our actions, cowardice or bravery to fight for the realisation of our generational task.

Gugu Ndima is an ANCYL member and former National Spokesperson of the YCL, and hails from the (not-so-free) generation who demands economic freedom in her life time!!


From → Opinion, Youth

One Comment
  1. ems permalink

    What a load of bullcrap. Do you research, Gugu? Do you not understand that the Mandela generation is free from unjust laws? Do you understand economics? Do you understand civil society and how it functions? An unequal society?society is unequal, hence not everyone will escape their poverty. The economy does not have a high demand for matriculants skills, hence he will not have a job with his Senior Certificate. The 16 year old in the cape farm will fall pregnant, abuse alcohol (cheap box wine) and bear a deformed child… That is a product of her immediate society.

    The matriculant may otherwise win a scholarship to study engineering at UCT because they register more black students as policy, and find a job under the EE act. The 16 year old may receive antenatal classes from her local clinic, give birth to a healthy child, and the child will receive money from the state.

    This is freedom, and they are born with these options afforded to them.


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