The Born Free Generation - Nelson Mandela's generation of hope

Ilvy Njiokiktjien

2011 - Ongoing

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. Modern day racism around the world has been talked about a lot in media. Racism in South Africa, where the apartheid system was implemented decades ago, is still noticeable in day to day life. 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.

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.

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 2 more times, and also photographing the elections in South Africa in May. 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.

This project has been mostly self funded since the start in 2011. (I received the Canon Female Photography award/grant in 2012. The 8000 euro grant money gave me a good start financially, but in the years that followed I self funded it all).

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 trying to travel back and forth to South Africa as much as I can, to continue the project and I hope to publish the project in 2019, when the South African democracy turns 25 years.

I really hope PHM will see the importance of this story. Thank you for considering my project!

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  • Wilmarie and Zakithi kiss in the car. They are a racially mixed couple from Johannesburg.

  • Students during the graduation at the ALA in Johannesburg. The African Leadership Academy (ALA) in the north of Johannesburg, South Africa, a school that chooses the most promising young talents of Africa every year and teaches them leadership and entrepreneurship. The school wants to prepare six thousand young leaders in fifty years time and thus ensure positive change on the continent.
    ALA is the brainchild of Fred Swaniker, a Ghanaian who fled his country as a child after a coup and moved to Botswana.

  • A young prisoner in a youth prison north of Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • Jason Noah on his 21st birthday. Jason is a young millionaire from Pretoria, who made his money through Forex trading.

  • Kevin du Plessis (middle) during the Gay Pride in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • High school student Lauren-Lee, with her daughter Nerusha in the streets of Manenberg, a gangster ridden suburb of Cape Town.

  • The South African National Youth Orchestra walk away after they have performed on the beach in South Africa.

  • Students at Hilton College, also a boarding school, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

  • 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.

  • Under cover police check a suspected gang member for tattoo's. The tattoo's show to which gang they belong. If you grow up in the notorious neighbourhood Manenberg in South Africa in Cape Town you are exposed to shootings, neighbours and parents addicted to alcohol and drugs, and relatives who belong to gangs. Here it takes only the slightest argument about who's allowed to sell drugs where - or about a girl - and bullets start tearing through the streets. The only way out is finishing your high school to have a shot at a better future. In Manenberg, only 22.2 percent of the population over twenty has completed high school.

  • Women and girls bring gifts to a traditional Mgidi, the official party after a boy's initiations ritual in the Xhosa tradition. The party takes place in Centane, a rural town in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Boys go to the bush to get circumcised to become men.

  • Innocent Moreku, a young entrepreneur in the fashion industry, in his hometown Pretoria. He has made his fame mostly through Instagram.

  • Efewe (6), taking a bath with the help from his mother and grandmother in Samora Machel, a township close to Cape Town.

  • Boys from Michael House, a boarding school, attend a swimming contest at Hilton College, also a boarding school, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

  • Rietfontein, South Africa - A maid sweeps under the feet of Johan Groblers older sister in their home in Rietfontein, South Africa. Johan Grobler attended the Kommandokorps camp in Carolina. Johan and his family members do not know the correct name of their maid, who comes into the house every day (except Sundays), to clean the house and wash their clothing. She has been working there for years, but as family members stated: 'Her name is too complicated to remember, so when we need her we just say tss tss.'

  • Jason Noah on his 21st birthday. Jason is a young millionaire from Pretoria, who made his money through Forex trading.

  • Afrikaner children being trained in a camp to hate black children, and to be proud of their own skin color. being trained Children born after 1994 are part of the Born Free Generation. This generation, born after apartheid, is supposed to bring unity and change to the country. 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.

  • A make shift gym in the township of Khayamandi, in Stellenbosch.

  • People gather to party with Jason Noah on his 21st birthday. Jason is a young millionaire from Pretoria, who made his money through Forex trading.

  • Bela-Bela, South Africa - EC Streicher's (16) school in Bela Bela, South Africa (he is not the boy pictured, the boy pictured in the image is just a student at the school).

    EC Streicher attends a school in his hometown Bela-Bela. His mother Magda sent EC to the Kommandokorps camp in the hopes of 'making a man' out of him. She is a single mother and wanted EC to experience a camp with men, that would 'toughen him up'. When he returned from the camp she was surprised at how well mannered he was, making her coffee and things like that. But she was also surprised he came back very racist. He came back more racist than she thought he would and she was a bit worried.

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