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South Africa’s born-frees

ABOVE: Members of the South African National Youth Orchestra walk on a beach in Cape Town after a performance. Zinhle Mfaba and Nina Cilliers became friends through playing in the orchestra. ‘When we’re playing together, we’re in sync – we’re there for a common cause. That brings us together and makes us one,’ says Mfaba.

This year, South Africa marks 25 years since its first democratic elections, which ended white minority rule, made Nelson Mandela president and gave all South Africans equal political rights. Ilvy Njiokiktjien photographs the young South Africans who have known only life in the post-apartheid ‘rainbow nation’.

‘I can do anything I want, study anything I want, go any- where I want. There are no barriers now,’ economics student Mzimkulu Ntakana, 21, says, summing up what being ‘born free’ in South Africa means to him. Yet, 28-year- old Candice Mama asks: ‘Born free from what? I don’t believe that people can be born free until [South Africa’s] economic inequalities are set right.’

ABOVE: Bulisani Dube, 25, of the Twelve Apostles Church prays for Mandela’s recovery after he was hospitalized in 2013 on Yeoville Hill, Johannesburg.

Nelson Mandela’s vision of a thriving ‘rainbow nation’ raised high hopes at the time but, 25 years later, many of the ‘born- free’ generation still – struggle with: rates of youth unemploy- ment ranging between 35 and 50 per cent. ‘If you don’t get a job, you create your own. You need to hustle,’ says Innocent Moreku, 22, who sells second-hand clothing on the side of the road. The majority of youths I interviewed believe that white South Afri- cans still have better opportunities. ‘Their grandfathers and great-grandfathers have been working and saving up, whilst our grandfathers have been fighting,’ says Zinhle Mfaba, 24.

ABOVE: Students of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg during their graduation ceremony. The university teaches students about leadership, politics and entrepreneurship.

When black South Africans do make money, they often have to provide for less-fortunate family members – also known as the ‘black tax’. Fashion designer Cindy Mfabe, 27, says: ‘We have to work double time because we have all this damage to fix.’

Although, most say they would be happy to mix with other race groups, the legacy of segregation still holds them back. ‘I don’t live in a place where I can meet a lot of white people and have white friends,’ says Zinhle Mfaba, who lives in Soweto, originally designed as a black township and still largely black today.
Kevin du Plessis, 28, says he has a lot more friends who are white, like him, because ‘you don’t find that many black kids that speak Afrikaans’ in Gauteng province.

ABOVE: Young students take part in Kommandokorps training in Carolina, South Africa. The Kommandokorps is a fringe, racist organization that runs camps during school holidays for white Afrikaner teenagers, teaching them self-defence against the ‘black enemy’. The group’s leader, self-proclaimed ‘Colonel’ Franz Jooste, served with the South African Defence Force under the apartheid regime.

Kevin du Plessis, 28, says he has a lot more friends who are white, like him, because ‘you don’t find that many black kids that speak Afrikaans’ in Gauteng province.

Despite the 8 May elections looming, very few of the young people I spoke to are planning to vote. Some feel guilty about their apathy, knowing their right to vote was hard won, but say the corruption scandals of recent years has made them lose faith in politics. Regardless, many remain hopeful about the future. As Wilmarie Deetlefs, 24, says: ‘South Africa needs a clean slate. I think that’s our generation. We are the clean slate.’ 

ABOVE: Lauren Japhta, 18, in her prom dress. She is proud to have finished Phoenix High School in Manenberg, Cape Town. ‘When it closed down earlier this year due to violence, I had to stay inside. It was scary.’
ABOVE: Zakithi Buthelezi (left, 27) notices people often treat him differently once they find out he has a white girlfriend. He says they become friendlier. For his girlfriend, 24-year-old Wilmarie Deetlefs (right), it’s mostly the other way around. ‘Go get yourself a man of your own colour,’ a taxi driver once snarled at her.
ABOVE: Children play in the neighbourhood of Manenberg, Cape Town, where gangs are known to operate. The wall reads ‘I want to play free’ and ‘Enough is enough’.

Ilvy Njiokiktjien is an independent photographer and multimedia journalist based in the Netherlands. She is represented by the VII photo agency. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Der Spiegel and Telegraph Magazine and predominantly covers the African continent. 

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