REPORTER:  David O’Shea


Meet Mandela's legacy - South Africa's youth. Born young enough to not know the extreme and legalised racism during apartheid, or see hundreds die in the struggle for equality and freedom. So, as they head towards a national election, what does it mean to them to be a born free?

Today's generation as filmed here by a local photographer, may be finding answers in pop culture rather than politics.


NUTTY, MEDIA STUDENT:   I am 20 years old this year, I'm turning 20 on 12th April.


REPORTER:  So you were born...


NUTTY:   Yes, 14 days before the first democratic elections.


REPORTER:   A true born free?


NUTTY:  True born!


Nutty's mum is taking me to a place which has great meaning to her, to discuss the legacy of apartheid today in their family.


NUTTY:  This is where it all happened.

MOTHER:  In 1976.


In 1976 around 20,000 students rioted against the introduction of Africaan’s language in schools. No-one is sure how many died in the Soweto riots but some say up to 700 people lost their lives. Nutty's mum was there.

MOTHER:  Yes, I was there - physically and everything.


NUTTY:  You almost got shot. Weren't you scared?


MOTHER:  I was so scared because we didn't know where the policemen came from, because they came from this direction and then the police started shooting.


NUTTY:   When I get a job one day, I want to drive a hummer.


For Nutty and her mother the past is still a big part of their lives today.


NUTTY:   It's equally as important to her as it is to me because she was a part of it. That's why it's so important, because if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be right where we are.


REPORTER:  Do you think the generation appreciates this?


MOTHER:   There are 50% who appreciate what we did, 50% who don't appreciate it, the people who don't appreciate it, I take it to mean, they are people who don't care.


REPORTER:  So the election is coming up soon. Do you both know who you will be voting for?


MOTHER:  I know who I will be voting for.


NUTTY:   The devil we know.


MOTHER:  Yes, the devil we know is better.


The devil you know, they're referring to, is the ruling African National Congress the party of Nelson Mandela. They've ruled for 20 years and despite increasing criticism, no other party has been able to seriously challenge them. And the youth aren't waiting around for the government to deliver.


REPORTER:  Who are you guys?


THABO:   He's Sibu, I'm Thabo.


SIBU:   But if you like you can call us Smarteez. I can't be seen in the same outfit three times. Twice is fine, three times, God, it's embarrassing. Spit on the ground of people who do that, just walk on.


Young designers, the Smarteez, say their name is like the candy - colourful on the outside and black on the inside.


REPORTER:   How do you find anything in here?


Their work has featured in style magazines and blogs around the world. They are not old enough to remember the struggle against apartheid. They say their struggle is against blandness and conformity.


SIBU:  Just Jackson Pollock it, quickly.


Fashion doesn't always make sense to me. To explain how this creativity is linked to the legacy of apartheid and politics, they are taking me to a roof-top party.


REPORTER:  What does it say about your generation, fashion?


SIBU:  I want to say fashion, but the arts in general say about our generation that we don’t need anyone to build us, make us money or give us anything.  Do you understand how awesome it is that I’m weird?  You are Australian, you are here to talk to me, because I look this way.


REPORTER:  Are you going to be voting in the election?


SIBU:  If I vote, who am I going to be voting for, why? They have been doing the same shit… I’m going to say shit, I won’t beep myself because they do shit.


THABO:   You can’t wait for the government to buy you a house, you need to work, you need to involve yourself, you need to work, you can’t just wait… I was affected by apartheid, now the government has to buy you a house…


SIBU:  Our parents were affected by apartheid, everything we have, we made ourselves.


THABO:   Exactly.


SIBU:   so if you are our age and you say apartheid, you’re a lazy fuck.


MPHO:  The legacy of apartheid is nothing tangible, it's something inside me, something inside everybody else who lived throughout the era of apartheid.


In Meadowlands, Soweto, Mpho is collecting water from the outside yard. They don't have running water inside the house and he wants to make a cup of tea for his grandmother.


GRANDMOTHER:  My hopes for Mpho is that he gets what he wants in life.


Mpho lost both his parents as a child. His father was murdered. He was raised by his grandmother and his aunties in a pro-ANC household.


GRANDMOTHER:  I haven’t seen much change, though there is, but for me as an individual there isn’t much. There is so much poverty, they do things they’re not supposed to do, like stealing, getting into drugs and you see the poor souls, they are not doing this because they love it, it’s oppression that goes within them.


But optimism for the future is still alive in this house.


MPHO:  She's not relying on the opportunities of me becoming something. She's relying on my ambition and the passion that I have to be a successful person beyond the opportunities of the born frees, that they say are there.


Mpho's been arrested four times for drugs. Now he's trying to follow his passion as a writer. He's been given the chance to be an intern at an initiative called LIVE magazine.


MAN:   I'm going to go through a rundown of how earn everyone is going through
the articles


MPHO:  The article is based on a genre called...


Everyone working in this room has the right to vote next week, but it's a right Mpho may not be exercising.


MPHO:  The main reason behind me not wanting to vote is because I've seen my grandmother vote so many times for change and nothing came. The majority of the guys in my family are the cliche blacks - in jail, dead, hijackers - I'm like the last of the dying breed.


REPORTER:  What's the most important thing in your life?


MPHO:  Right now, success actually. My family has been hungry for too long.


The born frees are also mixing the past with the present in ways that work for them. In the 50s, Pantsula was a protest dance that emerged out of Johannesburg's townships a form of resistance. Today they can build a career from touring as a Pantsula dancer.


REPORTER:  What do you feel when you're dancing this, what's the emotion?


DANCER:   It feels, I have courage to do this. I have lots of courage because I know it, it's in my blood, yes.


Many of the dancers told me they grew up with only one or no parents. Top Pantsula groups get paid and some have gone on to become celebrities.


DANCER:  If there was still apartheid, maybe I would have been working as a cleaner or gardener, but now because Mandela fought the struggle, now I can dance, travel the world, I can go to France, I can go to Europe.  We have to pull up our socks so we can live a good life. We have to work as a slave and live like a king.


REPORTER:    Some people I've spoken to say that nothing really has changed here. What do you think about that?


GIRL: That's not true. A lot of things change. We have schools, government schools where we don’t pay school fees, we just go to school.  We are free to go anywhere.


If you're between 18-25 years old here, there's a 55% unemployment rate. The country's been in recession since 2009. The Rand has dropped, but South Africa's stocks in cultural cool have gone up.  And for a young generation, this has become a small economic lifeline. Artists like Bhubesii sell their music or fashion online to a global market.


REPORTER:  Basically people are making their own opportunities now?


BHUBESII:  Yeah, yeah. Because also it has to do with the whole political thing, where the landscape of, you know, becoming into a new democracy and finding yourself and actually not waiting for someone to kind of give you handouts and actually just being your own ambassador and you can actually do it.


This generation is also getting involved in the city's revamp. Change may be too slow for some since the end of apartheid, but pockets of the city are safer and cleaner. Bheki is dubbed the Tourism Minister of Maboneng. At 21 he's already a respected entrepreneur, opening Joburg's first inner city backpackers.


BHEKI:  It’s based on mixing the old and the new, creating a new progressive, like architectural or aesthetic within the neighbourhood itself.


REPORTER:   What can you tell me about this area, are you noticing a change?


WOMAN:  There is a big change actually. I'm so used to Joburg being…. Joburg it's dangerous, you must not go there alone, especially as a girl. It's changing and it's nice.


BHEKI:  There is Leroy.


Leroy is working on a project to improve the building across from Bheki's backpackers. The people who live here are without proper access to electricity or water.


BHEKI:  I think the strategy also that we have used is like from other developers where they come and eradicate the existing people and then occupy the space for their own use.


LEROY:   What I was trying to do is, this space will be part of the kitchen because we will do communal kitchens.


REPORTER:  You are the service providers that everyone accuses the government of not being?


LEROY:  Yes, we can no longer wait for our country to be developed by them. We have to take our country by our own hands and start developing it ourselves and finding innovative ways to make sure
it can happen.


The downtown rebuild is being led by another young South African - Jonathan Liebmann. His company, Propertuity, has invested around $100 million Australian dollars into the area and entrepreneurs like Bheki.


JONATHAN LIEBMANN:   Born frees have played a massive role in the development of Maboneng. I've connected and collaborated with a lot of really young black South Africans that are 20,21, 22, starting up businesses in the neighbourhood.

REPORTER:  Does that describe Bheki does it?


JONATHAN LIEBMANN:   Yes, I mean, Bheki is the classic case.


Born frees are also using their new-found democracy to explore controversial topics, bringing new meaning to the past.


MBONGENI:   Everyone told me to not do it. That's what motivated me to do it.


Mbongeni is making T-shirts with the white racial slur Kaffir. It was once so offensive people call it the 'k-word'.


REPORTER:  Is the word as bad as people tell me it is?


MBONGENI:   It is. It is, but like only to adults and stuff, you know, to the youth it really doesn't have that much of significance because we are not affected by that word in any way.

MAN:   We're not trying to hurt people or make them go back to the past, we are just trying to make peace with the fact that we were called Kaffir.


MBONGENI:   We're not raised to look at colour and stuff you know. That was our parents' struggle.


REPORTER:  What is your struggle?


MBONGENI:   Our struggle is financial independence.


REPORTER:   What do you think Nelson Mandela would have nought of your T-shirts?


MBONGENI:   Well, Nelson Mandela was a very open minded person. I think he would have loved the T-shirts. He taught us about forgiveness, you know, that is the most important thing he taught us, forgiveness. So, if we could forgive, like, a whole race, I don't think he'd have a problem with these T-shirts.


My studio is very simple.

Mbongenitie-dyes his T-shirts from home, he does everything on the balcony of his mum's flat although at first she didn't allow him to wear the T-shirt in the house.


REPORTER:  What does the word mean to you?


MOTHER:   At the time it did belittle me. It didn't make me feel good about myself as a human being, I’m not very happy about it also because I’m a child of apartheid, I don’t think they know much of what happened in the past.


REPORTER:  Did you try to convince him not to go down this path?


MOTHER:  I did, I did.

REPORTER:  You failed?

MOTHER:  Well he agreed he would make a change, he said he would turn the "i" down, but it will still be there, I don't think that, it doesn’t make a difference.


These photographs belong to a young white South African who focuses on youth subculture. His images have sold around the world and made the cover of South African Rolling Stone Magazine.

REPORTER:  Why are your subjects interesting? It's obviously not only because of the fashion they're wearing or the music they're making, it's more than that, isn't it?


PHOTOGRAPHER:  When people see the images that I shoot of South Africans, that are colourful and vibrant and positive South African culture, it's the exact opposite of the idea that they have of Africa. First it was like, peace and everything is great and fantastic, but there was nothing about who we were. That was an important thing for me.


Next week South Africa will go to the polls and it' predicted the ANC will remain in power. President Jacob Zuma has promised six million jobs and opposition parties have expressed their doubts. For Mpho the election results will be of little consequence. He's just focussed on staying on the straight and narrow.


MPHO:  I don't understand the term "free" for me now as someone born in the 90s. I'm not free from my own struggles, but it's one of those battles that I believe I will stay winning, I'll stay winning.


Mpho has a chance in life that wasn't available to his parents. They fought for freedom and now their children are determined to forge their own future.


MARK DAVIS:   Nice so see something upbeat out of Africa. You can go to our website to find out more about the born frees in David's story and there's a gallery from another young Joburg Photographer telling his story of success.




Fixer/Additional Camera 


Additional stills provided by Chris Saunders and Corbis Images

Additional Music provided by Bhubesii

Archive footage from Reuters

© 2023 Journeyman Pictures
Journeyman Pictures Ltd. 4-6 High Street, Thames Ditton, Surrey, KT7 0RY, United Kingdom

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