IN PICTURES | Born-frees are products of the same era but different realities
Over the past decade, photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien has been exploring, in pictures, the lives of our born-frees, and on how far (or not) our country has come in the past 25 years.
Her series, 'Born Free —Mandela ’s Generation of Hope', is one of the most unique and comprehensive projects of its kind and will be released as a book of the same name in April.
Njiokiktjien says that the variety of people in her pictures provide a broad perspective on the lives, ambitions and beliefs of the children born after apartheid. There are born-frees struggling and born-frees thriving. Far from being free — corruption, crime, poverty and the past still keep many born-frees captive.
In her book, the born-frees question the outcome of the dream Mandela had for them:
A generation of young people has grown up since SA abandoned its oppressive apartheid system. This year the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of its first democratic elections, which ended white minority rule, made Nelson Mandela the first black president and gave all citizens equal rights.
"I can do anything I want, study anything I want, go anywhere I want. There are no barriers now," economics student Mzimkulu Ntakana, 21, sums up what being born-free means to him.
"Born-free from what?" asks Candice Mama, 28. "I don't believe that people can be born-free until economic inequalities are set right."
Mandela's vision of a thriving "rainbow nation" raised high hopes 25 years ago, but many in the born-free generation struggle. Estimates of youth unemployment range between 35% and 50%.
"If you don't get a job, you create your own. You need to hustle," says Innocent Moreku, 22, who sells secondhand clothing at the roadside.
Most of the young people interviewed feel that white South Africans 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.
When black South Africans do make money, they often have to provide for less-fortunate family members, a phenomenon known as "black tax".
Fashion designer Cindy Mfabe, 27: "We have to work double time, because we still have all this damage that we have to fix."
Most say they would be happy to mix with other race groups, but past 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 Mfaba, who lives in Soweto, once designated a black township and still largely black today.
Says Kevin du Plessis, 28: "I have a lot more white friends, because in Gauteng you don't find that many black kids that speak Afrikaans."
Very few of those she spoke to are planning to vote in next month's election. Some feel bad about their apathy, knowing their right to vote was hard won, but say the corruption scandals of recent years have made them lose faith in politics.
Despite the challenges, many remain optimistic about their future, and that of SA. They feel 25 years is simply not enough time to repair the troubled past, and their generation is only a start.
Wilmarie Deetlefs, 24, who has a black boyfriend, says: "SA needs a clean slate. I think that's our generation. We are the clean slate."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ilvy Njiokiktjien is an independent photographer and multimedia journalist based in the Netherlands and represented by VII Photo Agency. She is also a Canon Ambassador.
Njiokiktjien has worked in many parts of the world, with a focus on Africa. As a documentary photographer, she covers current affairs and contemporary social issues. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Der Spiegel, NRC Handelsblad, Telegraph Magazine and Stern, among others, and was exhibited at Visa pour l'Image in 2012.
Accolades include a Canon AFJ Award, two awards at World Press Photo and first prize in POYi's Issue Reporting Multimedia Story.