Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflection on the Rainbow Nation (2014)

To speak of a “Born Free” in South Africa has a similar connotation as speaking about a “Millenial” in the U.S. It is part insult, part inspiration, and heavily laden with the burden of somehow being distinct from the generation that birthed it.  The book begins with gratitude for the end of apartheid, a condition that this generation is credited with never having personally experienced. Yet, the burden of being the first generation to navigate multi-racial and integrated spaces was not without suffering. The book speaks to the lack of space to express that suffering, given that elders had coveted such an experience for so long and considered it an exalted privilege.

The book is a page turner that is easy to read. It chronicles the authors’ family heritage, and the generations of movement in and out of township spaces. It charts encounters with characters only identified by an initial, for shame. The integration of schools came first, but it soon leads to discussions of politics and access to basic services, like health care, which are still deeply fraught with racialized and class-based tensions. The author tries to make sense of the brutal vigilante justice that fills the vacuum of proper policing service provided in Black-dominated residential spaces. The end culminates in a sort of coming of age, oddly enough, at university.

The book is both emblematic of this generation’s privilege and its largely being misunderstood. This is less a memoir than a timely reflection on social ills, shared through the lens of a young person who isn’t waiting for permission to expose inequities decades after the events have come and gone. Yet, there is a political audacity within its pages, which praise the ANC for liberation but also offer a youth perspective on Julius Malema, as a possible electoral alternative.