From a born free to the Apartheid generation
Sharnade’ Mc Kerry
Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
Dear Apartheid Generation
I belong to the born free generation, the first generation born into a democratic South
Africa. My issue with being referred to as a born free is the term itself buys into
rainbowism. I feel as though I am not allowed to complain because I have everything
you didn’t have because of what you fought for.
Because of you, I was afforded the privilege to attend a former Model C school,
university and start a career. And for that I will forever be grateful. We both lived in
two very different South Africa’s: South Africa during the racist oppressive system of
Apartheid and the post-Apartheid South Africa, which is not all rainbows and
I am left with a hangover of Apartheid. I bear battle scars of a war I had no part in.
What we face today is nothing compared to what you faced. You might say that we
are better off today. But I need you to hear me out. I need you to
understand that every generation has a different struggle, a different
cause. Your shoes are huge to fill, you are the badass generation
who dismantled apartheid. We are the generation picking up the rubble of apartheid
in an effort of building a new South Africa. We see you suffer from post-traumatic
disorder and hear of mostly good reflections of the past.
We are the #FeesMustFall generation, the generation who refuses to believe the
false promises of a postponed tomorrow. We refuse to accept ineffective policies in
place which fail the masses.
We are among the first in our families to attend university, the first to graduate, the
first to have careers and not jobs.
Attending a Model C school was difficult, I felt displaced. Not only did I stand out at
school but in my community as well. People in my community either saw me as a
success story in the making or assumed that I thought that I was better. I noticed
how my experience differed from my white peers. I feared having my accent be the
joke of the class every time I opened my mouth.
It was difficult learning in an environment that made you feel like you didn’t belong.
Despite these challenges, we excelled in school and on the field, but I could see the
pressure on students of colour. The pressure to not to fall pregnant, to pass matric,
to get accepted at a university and the pressure to be the one in the family and the
community to make it out.
Then there was university. This is where the difference in our racial
experiences became even more apparent. I started noticing how many white
people drove to varsity in comparison to people of colour who walked.
I noticed how many black and coloured students didn’t have textbooks or laptops while white students had Mac books.
For the first time in my life I saw race and how it determined ones economic and
social status. I admired the beautiful big houses I walked pass, houses that looked
nothing like the one I had at home. Seeing these houses brought a kind of inspiration
and sadness. I was inspired to one day own one and saddened because I couldn’t
even imagine myself living there, I could only see white families.
University was difficult. Finance was the main cause of my stress. I kept worrying
about who would fund me and where I could find affordable accommodation. When
NSFAS came and took the financial burden away from my parents, I felt relieved. I
knew I couldn’t ask for anything from my parents because I knew the situation at
home. Spoiling myself came with a feeling of guilt that ruined the enjoyment. I kept
thinking of my family at home. Are they okay, what are they eating while I’m enjoying
my occasional chocolate.
Exams were the most difficult. The pressure of exams, the countless breakdowns,
the homesickness and the overwhelming work load. Photocopying books or doing
everything possible to pass a test without the prescribed books, while I wait for
NSFAS to pay out. I remember my privileged friends saying they won’t write because
they didn’t have enough time to study. Not writing and failing was an option I couldn’t
My family and community were counting on me to graduate. Suffering from depression but not being able to tell my parents because at least I had the privilege of attending university and depression is a luxury we cannot afford.
In class I felt paralyzed as I listened to my white lecturers teach me about racial and
African discourse while failing to acknowledge my lived experiences. I felt
unrepresented and when I tried to explain I was made to feel like my experiences
were not only unvalidated but that I had imagined them. I realised in that moment
that no matter how objective or clued up of an academic one is, it takes one’s
acknowledgement of their white privilege in order to better understand the legacy of
apartheid in relation to its impact on the experiences of people of colour. After I told a
white classmate that her parents benefited from apartheid. She told me her parents
worked hard for what they have. I told her that her parents work ethic is beside the
point. My lecturer’s expression mirrored white people’s expression when they hear
the word racist. I remember watching the people of colour in my class remain silent.
They had the face I had when I felt paralyzed. After class they high fived me in
agreement yet inside the classroom they said nothing. I didn't blame them, because
university often felt like the sunken place. I had a constant fear that my radical
opinions would affect my marks and kept that in mind when writing my pro black
Throughout the four years at the university I only felt safe and represented in two
classes. I felt free to speak, I felt understood and I felt like they could relate. They
were two strong women of colour who allowed me to see the books we studied in
relation to my daily realities.
I often broke down because it just wasn’t fair. Not only were my ancestors oppressed
but I still experience it today. It was as if I was being punished for something I had no
control of. Some days felt more unfair than others. The legacy of colonialism, slavery
and apartheid followed me wherever I went. I longed to just be a person and not a
person whose skin colour determined one’s life.
Finding a group of powerful women of colour who experiences intersected with mine
carried me through postgrad. We were brought together by a feeling of displacement, a problematic lecturer and our struggles. We spoke about how we felt isolated, paralyzed and black.
When I graduated I felt as though I was sold a dream. I thought a degree came with
a guaranteed job, but the reality was I was struggling to find one. This made no
sense to my family members who were already estimating my potential salary.
Finding an internship was a difficult process which took nine months. I noticed how
people of colour were being eliminated from the game. Not only did they want a
license, own transport but they expected interns to work for less than R3000,00. It
was ridiculous. After graduation the pressure is on for people of colour to a find job
because well black tax, which is more like an obligation rather than a burden.
Internships assume that the stipend is only sustaining the intern but imagine having
to share that with a family while trying to save up for car.
Even when I happened to find an internship that paid me enough to survive without
the support of my parents, I still felt pressured to send money home. I became a
bean counter and obsessed with saving because I needed to make sure my parents
would not have to struggle financially. I felt helpless not being able to support my
younger siblings and my parents. I knew every decision I make from here on out, I
need to consider my NSFAS debt, my parents debt and my siblings. Everyday my
dreams float further away from me because no dream is worth financial instability.
I keep having this recurring fear that I would make one mistake and end up like
majority of the people in my community who devote their entire lives to companies
who pay them close to nothing. Who feel trapped in the cycle of poverty and
paralyzed by their circumstances.
Today, the youth in South Africa face many challenges from unemployment to
poverty. See our struggles never ended with apartheid and we still busy playing
catch up because Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment is no match for white
privilege. Despite these challenges South African youth today has taken the baton
from the youth of 1976 and are driving transformation in South Africa.
A born free of colour