The Born Free Generation - Mandela's Children

Ilvy Njiokiktjien

2011 - Ongoing

(Please mind while looking at this submission, that the last 7 images were taken in the last few days... I have been working non stop, but had little time to edit. I am still out in the field now, literally working day and night, for another few weeks. I wanted to show you the newest work as well, to show that I am continuing and meeting new people every day, but please keep in mind that the last 7 images did not have much Photoshop done, they basically came straight from my camera a few hours back).

The year 2019 marks twenty-five years since Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s president and his nation, a free country. The children born in the years right after apartheid was abolished, are now young adults.

This is the Born Free Generation, or the born-frees, Mandela’s human legacy: the first generation in which every South African has the same opportunities and racial segregation is a thing of the past. They were to be the face of a new, free, and successful South Africa.

I have been following the born-frees since 2011. In photos I capture these young people’s lives, which reveal that reality resists change. Some of the youngsters I follow are extremely successful, in arts, fashion, media and many other creative jobs. But some of the youngsters from this generation are struggling—sometimes more so than their parents—with unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Social segregation may be a thing of the past, but class segregation seems to have taken its place. And for many South Africans, childhood is a time shaped by extreme violence and the aftermath of HIV and AIDS.

Although I have been working on this project for quite some years, I am not finished yet. In the upcoming months I will hopefully be visiting South Africa at least 3 to 4 times (I am here now as well). I am in search of the born-frees and their stories and want to make contact with people from all walks of the Mandela generation: rich and poor, black and white, LGBTQ and straight, city and country, of different faiths and social and cultural groups.

This variety provides a rich palette of perspectives on the lives, ambitions, and beliefs of the born-free generation. I am currently following born frees and I am making an overview of how the country, across every layer of society, is doing after twenty-five years of democracy. I want to publish these stories in 2019 and hopefully also exhibit somewhere.

This project has been mostly self funded since the start in 2011. (I received the Caon Female Photography award/grant in 2012, but that was the only funding so far). Luckily the first part of the project, which was about extreme racist white Afrikaners, won two awards at the World Press Photo and two awards at POYi in 2012. Because of this recognition, and the publications that followed, I got to continue the project partly. Now, 7 years later, the struggle to continue is starting, but I am in South Africa at the moment, continuing the project and I hope to publish the project around May 2019, when the South African democracy turns 25 years.

I really hope PHM will see the importance of this story. I am happy I got to look through my new images tonight, at least it made me feel like I am on the right path here. Thank you!

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  • Students of the prestigious African Leadership Academy in the north of Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • A juvenile in the youth prison in the north of Johannesburg, South Africa. South Africa's crime rates are amongst one of the highest in the world. Many youngsters commit crimes, simply to make a living.

  • High school student Lauren-Lee (18), with her daughter Nerusha in the streets of Manneberg. Manenberg is an area in Cape Town where mostly coloureds are living. The area is gang ridden and it is dangerous for children to go to school, as bullets fly through the streets.

  • Noluthando Mbali (21) together with her mother at their home on the outskirts of Pretoria. Noluthando studies pr at her University and is well known because she is a radio host on her campus radio station.

  • Models wait in line during a contest of the South African Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Jano (13) and his mother Janomi in the car on the way to Jano's school. Jano attended the racist camp organised by the Kommandokorps. His mother firmly believes South Africa was a better country during apartheid times.

  • Jano (13) on his bed. Jano attended the racist camp organised by the Kommandokorps. His mother firmly believes South Africa was a better country during apartheid times.

  • Innocent Moreku (21) loves fashion, he has his own stall in the city centre of Pretoria, where he sells second hand clothing.

  • A boy gets searched by the police in Manenberg. Manenberg is an area in Cape Town where mostly coloureds are living. The area is gang ridden and it is dangerous for children to go to school, as bullets fly through the streets.

  • Lauren-Lee leaves the house together with her prom date. The prom is held yearly at the end of high school in Manenberg (which is only finished by 22.2 % of the population). The big end of the year prom, to mark the end of the last year of school, is one of the most important celebrations in teenage life. Lauren-Lee attends Phoenix Secondary School, the school had to be closed down in 2013, due to the shootings in the streets of Manenberg.

  • Children during the first hour in school, in a rural school in Bela Bela, South Africa.

  • The 21st birthday of Jason Noah in Pretoria, South Africa. Jason Noah made money by Forex trading. He has 135.000 followers on Instagram, mainly guys and girls of his age that also want to become rich by Forex trading. He teaches others how to trade, and makes money by doing so.

  • Ofentse (26) together with his boyfriend Lewis (21) on the Nelson Mandela bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • A maid cleanes the house of a family who lives on a farm in Rietfontein, South Africa.

  • People try to order drinks at a concert of Desmond and the Tutu's in a bar in Parkhust, Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Children during a break in a middle school in rural South Africa.

  • Natalie de Wee (18) in her prom dress.
    The prom is held yearly at the end of high school in Manenberg (which is only finished by 22.2 % of the population). The big end of the year prom, to mark the end of the last year of school, is one of the most important celebrations in teenage life. Lauren-Lee attends Phoenix Secondary School, the school had to be closed down in 2013, due to the shootings in the streets of Manenberg.

  • Boys get searched by the police in Manenberg. Manenberg is an area in Cape Town where mostly coloureds are living. The area is gang ridden and it is dangerous for children to go to school, as bullets fly through the streets.

  • The 21st birthday of Jason Noah in Pretoria, South Africa. Jason Noah made money by Forex trading. He has 135.000 followers on Instagram, mainly guys and girls of his age that also want to become rich by Forex trading. He teaches others how to trade, and makes money by doing so.

  • 'Self defence training' for Afrikaner boys, organised by right wing organisation Kommandokorps. The boys in the photographs all went to the right wing Kommandokorps camp, where an old apartheid Major, Kolonel Franz Jooste, told them that the rainbow generation does not exist.


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