Born “Free”

South Africa seems to be no better off than it was at the end of apartheid 25 years ago and falling voter turnout continues to add fuel to the fire.


Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 19: An aerial view of the poor black squatter camp Kya Sands, home to South Africans and many African Immigrants on July 19, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Across the road Bloubusrand, a middle class area with larger houses and swimming pools. South Africa has one of the highest income differences in the world and the country is struggling with a high unemployment rate and low growth rate. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

Nathan Bingham, Reporter

As of the end of April, the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa happened a quarter of a century ago. The shattering of the intentionally suppressive and racist system began in 1994 with the first series of democratic elections for president. Thousands upon thousands of South Africans lined up for stretches as long as city blocks waiting to finally cast their ballots. The frontrunner Nelson Mandela- finally released from prison in 1990 to avoid scrutiny by the international community- was the first black candidate in the country’s history and won the election overwhelmingly with 68% of the total votes cast. Then the leader of the now dominant political party in South Africa, the African National Congress, Mandela was inaugurated in 1994. With it came the promise of a new country prosperous in its newfound democracy; however, sometimes promises are just that: words. As the nearest South African elections draw closer, fewer voters are returning; many of them are part of the “Born Free” Generation: those who were born after apartheid had come to an end.

Those of the “Born Free” Generation are as old as 25 and yet many of the thousands of them older than the country’s legal voting age of 18 refrain from doing so. Feeling that the situation generations prior had promised them during the fight against apartheid is anything but a reality, many detest participating in elections; further agitating the situation, rampant government corruption impedes any progress towards a more equal society. Seemingly, South Africa is no better off than it was under apartheid; according to CNN, a report conducted by the World Bank in 2018 on poverty and inequality notes some of its findings.

“Previously disadvantaged South Africans hold fewer assets, have fewer skills, earn lower wages, and are still more likely to be unemployed” states the report.

Notions of little improvement are strengthened by the continued presence of an elite, mainly white minority who still reigns in the upper echelons of South African society. A joint study between the World Bank and the University of South Africa from 2011 to 2015 details the division of wealth in the nation compared to the average of a country that participates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development or OECD.

“While the richest 10% of the population of those living in OECD nations retain on average half of the total wealth, the richest 10% in South Africa account for 71% of the total wealth. Furthermore, in OECD nations, the poorest 60% retain on average 13% of the total wealth while in South Africa they retain only 7%” revealed the study.

South Africa’s steps towards becoming a true democracy seemed to have halted following the end of Mandela’s long fight for victory 25 years ago; highly prevalent corruption within the government coupled with the tremendous gap between the rich and poor of the nation accounts for such a disconnection on the part of the “Born Free” Generation with their potential for real change. Voting and protest account for the initial ember that lights the fire of social change. The parents and grandparents of the “Born Free” Generation fought to change their country and their lives for the better: why can’t they?