We may have arrived after the dawn of democracy but we understand the history of oppression, says Malaika wa Azania.
I have followed with great intrigue the endless debates posed by academics, analysts, commentators and political parties about what they term “born-frees”. It has largely been an intellectual debate about who these first-time voters are likely to vote for, and why.
Most of these learned people believe that the “born-free” generation is so liberal in its outlook that it will most likely deliver votes to organisations such as the DA. They believe that the “apathetic” mass of young people born post-1994 are so detached from our apartheid history that their vote is unlikely to be informed by loyalty for political parties formed from national liberation movements.
Grandiloquent and complex theories are thrown around analysing “born-frees” without involving them in this process of analysis. Their views are not solicited. It is a debate based on assumptions, subjective perceptions and misguided theories that exist only on paper.
I will not claim to be speaking on behalf of “born-frees” because unlike these analysts, commentators and academics, I have an understanding that this generation is not homogenous.
There is this strange perception created by intellectuals that seeks to suggest that all “born-frees” think the same, have the same individual struggles and view society from behind the same lenses.
It is an outlook that seeks to suggest that we all have the same ambitions and hopes for ourselves as individuals and for the country as a whole. Such a false debate begs for a serious challenge, lest this school of falsification becomes the authority on this subject.
I repeat that I do not speak on behalf of all “born-frees”. I do, however, speak on behalf of those of us who are misrepresented in this discussion and who, for whatever reason, are not given an opportunity to contribute to these endless studies and critiques that can only be referred to as helicopter views.
I was two years old in 1994 when South Africans queued to cast their first democratic votes.
I have no recollection of that moment; I was far too young to comprehend anything that transpired during that period.
My primary and secondary socialisation happened in a democratic South Africa. Everything I learnt and everything I know is a product of the post-apartheid dispensation.
For this reason, I believe myself better qualified to speak about this generation of “born-frees” than most of the academics and analysts who are being given the platform to provide analyses about our realities, thoughts and choices.
The first point that must be contested is the very definition of “born-frees”.
This term is thrown around so glibly in this election period that it would be criminal to begin without defining it.
According to our learned adults, the analysts and academics, “born-frees” are children born after the dawn of democracy.
According to this narrative, children born in and post-1994 were born into a “post-revolution” South Africa where the system of apartheid that had characterised the decades preceding 1994 had been annihilated.
These children, it is argued, were born during a time when South Africa belonged to all those who live in it, black and white, in every sense of the word.
They further argue that this generation, because of the period during which it was born, is not as inclined to liberation struggle history as previous generations.
The latter, it is argued, experienced apartheid first-hand. In fact, they experienced apartheid in its dying moments, which logically, was also at its zenith.
And there is an element of truth to the argument that the brutality of apartheid was more amplified during the last decade than it was throughout its 46 years of existence.
More young people died between 1984 and 1994 than they did at any other period of our apartheid history. The height of this violence was in the early 1990s during the Codesa negotiations when right-wing forces on both sides (blacks and whites) attempted to hold our country to ransom, resisting integration.
White right-wing terrorists felt that they were increasingly being marginalised from the political process. Groups such as the White Liberation Army, the White Republican Army, the Boer Republican Army, the White Wolves and the Order of the Boer Nation, were formed.
Some of these groups formed an alliance known as the White People’s Front in 1992 and threatened further violence as the political transition continued.
Black right-wing terrorists also posed the same argument about being marginalised. This resulted in waves of serious violence sweeping through many townships, mainly around Joburg and in the Natal province.
The generation born in the 1980s lived to see this violence first-hand.
One of my friends, Phindile Kunene, narrated to me a cruel tale about the kind of violence she and her school friends were exposed to when the clashes between the self-defence units of the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) happened in the townships of Katlehong, Cathorus, Thokoza, Vosloorus and other parts of the East Rand (Ekurhuleni) in Gauteng.
She explained how they would be forced to flee school right in the middle of classes when vigilante groups armed with guns, spears and knobkieries would come charging in, intent on causing grievous harm to them and even murdering them.
For the most part of the 1990s, for every single minute, South Africa was at war. Brave young men and women were hurled into eternity every hour of every day, of every night.
And innocent young children like Phindile witnessed with their own eyes a country torn asunder by this diabolical violence.
Because our generation never lived to see any of this, because we were born after this war period, it is claimed that we are divorced from apartheid history.
It is argued that unlike Phindile’s generation, we are unlikely to have our votes influenced by whatever transpired pre-1994.
The conclusion is that being “born free” and growing up in an age of globalisation, where the neo-liberal order defines the politics of the day, our votes will be informed solely by our personal aspirations.
It is thought that parties that prioritise individual growth, such as the DA, would appeal to us more than parties that still embody left-wing politics, which prioritise societal growth.
And maybe this is true for some of the “born frees”, but it is not true for all of us.
There are those like myself who question and reject the concept of “born-frees” and all that it represents.
In my book, Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation, published by Jacana Publishers and to be launched in June, I posit that post-apartheid South Africa has constructs of colonialism – that although apartheid legislation was annihilated during the 1994 political transition, the reality is that black people, and the youth in particular, remain on the receiving end of structural inequalities that are creating a barrier to genuine reconciliation and prosperity for our nation.
Even those of us who are privileged to have attended multiracial schools – and who today are students in “previously” white-dominated institutions (I am a student at the ivory tower of white supremacy that is Rhodes University), those who our learned academics and analysts claim are “apolitical” – know too well the indignity of the black condition, a nervous condition which is a product of an apartheid past that we are alleged to be indifferent to.
The dominant narrative that suggests that “born-frees” are apolitical is a false one. Perhaps it is true that many of us are battling to find a political home. Perhaps there is validity in the argument that we are not as politically active as we ought to be, particularly given the history of our country, where young people were forced into activism by the prevailing material conditions that defined their realities under apartheid.
And perhaps it can be said that we are in a state of dejection. The PAC, Azapo and other parties in the modern-day Black Consciousness Movement and the Pan Africanist bloc have failed to inspire confidence with their ideological inconsistencies and endless internal fractures.
The ANC has left us feeling despondent with its Damascean conversion from an organisation that epitomised the aspirations of natives to an organisation characterised by the worst elements of mediocrity, cronyism, corruption and maladministration.
And the worst of the lot, the SACP, an organisation that in theory should be attracting the black masses who are held in economic bondage, is so dismal an option that one cannot but agree with Professor Steven Friedman, who once argued that the party must be charged for bringing Marxism into disrepute.
But to suggest that our non-partisan stance translates into political apathy is to undermine our collective intelligence.
We are more political than meets the eye, largely because contrary to the arguments posed by the learned, we are not ignorant of the reality that we were not “born free”.
We know too well that even in post-apartheid South Africa, we continue to be measured by the colour of our skin everywhere we go.
We are aware that the doors of learning get shut in our faces not because we are not capable of excelling, but because we did not inherit trust funds from our working class parents who toil day in and day out for white-owned companies, earning peanuts, while our white counterparts continue to enjoy privilege.
We are not blind to the reality that our country is torn apart by white monopoly capital, and that the emerging black comprador bourgeoisie (middle class) is nothing but a buffer between the poor working class black majority and the very comfortable white minority. And we are definitely not ignorant of the plight of our people who daily suffer the indignity of unemployment, poverty and disease.
So, when we cast our votes, and we are definitely going to cast our vote, we will do so with the knowledge that we are a generation that is continuing the fight against all manifestations of colonialism.
We know too well that our struggle was never just about apartheid.
Those thousands of people who perished did not die so that we can walk on the same streets and dine in the same restaurants as white people. They died so that our people can have their dignity back, and dignity is both political and economic power.
With our votes, we will be declaring that the struggle continues, and that black “born-frees” have not yet been born.