South Africa′s youth pushes for united nation | Africa | DW | 29.04.2014
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South Africa's youth pushes for united nation

South Africa's young generation was born after apartheid ended. The "born free" generation believes in Nelson Mandela's dream of a free and fair society and is pushing for a united rainbow nation - against all odds.

South Africa's young generation, now aged between 15 and 24, was born after 1990 when the country's apartheid regime was coming to an end. These young people were born after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, raising a triumphant clenched fist when he finally left as a free man. One in four South Africans today belong to this "born free" generation.

"We are born in freedom and we have free will. You can make your own choices and create your own path in life," 20-year-old Tiffany Seema said. The black woman with big golden earrings and a long braid studies environmental management and geology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Tiffany comes from a predominantly white suburb of Johannesburg. Her mother used to work as a house help before she managed to work her way up to a managing position. She taught Tiffany to take education seriously and to do something with her life. Tiffany's four older brothers helped finance her studies.

Tiffany is well aware of the fact that even 20 years after apartheid, equal opportunities for black and white South Africans still can't be taken for granted.

"We are still catching up," she said. "People are still oppressed whether it's the color of your skin or the village you are from or the language you speak."

Financial rift

On paper, everyone here is supposed to have access to the same opportunities, but in reality people still lead very different lives. Today, it's not race but money that divides South Africa's young generation - that's even the case in modern Johannesburg where multicultural life is common on the streets, at school or work. Those who have grown up in the same neighborhoods - with the same financial means and the same cultural values - make up a social class.

Three men in front of a sign that reads bicycle tours (photo: Kerstin Welter)

Jeffrey now employs three men to help him run his bike tours in Alexandra

Alexandra Nash and Megan Thomas are old high school friends and pretty much were always given many of the things other people aspired for. They meet up in a mall in the rich financial district Sandton. They are both in Johannesburg for a quick visit - Megan moved to Cape Town to pursue a degree in media studies, Alexandra studies medicine in Scotland.

As the two girlfriends sip on their iced coffee, their conversation is mostly focused on private schools, large gardens, holiday homes and vacation in Europe. They grew up more or less just like their white parents - the only difference, Alex says, is that they didn't experience apartheid which they both reject.

"Our high school was pretty mixed, we had girls who used to live in Soweto and they were on bursaries. We know for a fact that it was quite hard for them, like when we used to have cars, they had to take the bus home," Alexandra said. "I think it must have been hard especially from their perspective to all of a sudden be exposed to a society where there is this money. I felt a bit uncomfortable sometimes."

The two friends try to alleviate poverty by helping South Africa's poor. They also discuss with friends how to improve the situation for everyone in the country. But they admit that these groups are not really mixed when it comes to rich and poorer classes. "It really does seem that people flock together. All my black friends and people in my social group are friends that I holiday in the same place with, that I do the same things with," Megan said. "I do feel that integration has gotten to the right point, but within social classes."

Working your way up to the top

Jeffrey Mulaudzi mostly deals with people from a poor and black social background. He lives in Johannesburg's oldest township Alexandra, just a few kilometers away from the rich Sandton district. Alexandra is home to hundreds of thousands of people who live in this densely packed neighborhood. Apart from tarmac streets, very little has changed in the past decades.

But 21-year-old Jeffrey has managed to find his niche here by offering bike tours for tourists. He has three employees now. He also takes part in a mentoring program for young entrepreneurs - that's why he sometimes wears a suit.

"You have to work from where you are," he said. "I was born and raised in a family where my mother never had a cent. I used to walk to school with my bare feet. Now I am lucky that I can buy shoes for some students. I used to ask for money, now I am able to give someone something to eat."

Alexandra Nash and Megan Thomas (photo: Kerstin Welte)

Alexandra Nash and Megan Thomas want to alleviate poverty in South Africa

Yes, there is still discrimination today which probably won't end quickly, he added. "Our democracy is very young. It's how you deal with that negative side. Getting angry only makes things worse," he said.

Most of the born free generation have this positive attitude even though two thirds of them don't have a job or access to good education. They all believe hard work will help them get ahead. They also believe that South Africa needs more time to leave apartheid behind.

Democracy has brought unprecedented opportunities for their entire generation, that's what everyone - no matter what color or class - agrees on. And they turn to Nelson Mandela and his vision of a fair, free society.

None of the born free generation can directly relate to South Africa's liberation struggle - for them, it's more important what politicians are willing to do to improve their lives in the future. And many are unhappy with the country's development.

Corruption makes headlines on a daily basis, which angers many young people because they feel the vision of a successful rainbow nation living in harmony is being gambled away. But that is' the vision they were born with and they are not prepared to give up on that. After all, they chose to live in South Africa and don't want to live anywhere else.

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