Book review – How free is born free?

2014-06-16 10:00

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Memoirs of a Born Free by Malaika wa Azania

Jacana Media

172 pages

R175 on

Memoirs of a Born Free is an honest account of what it is like to grow up in the rainbow nation, as post-apartheid South Africa is often called.

Written by 22-year-old Malaika waAzania (born Malaika Lesego Samora Mahlatsi), the book is a first-person account of being a born-free and what that really meant to her. Her personal narrative is a story of the prevailing legacy of apartheid, the violence of poverty and crime, disenfranchisement and attempting to navigate a society that didn’t change overnight.

This is also while dealing with the jarring inequality between her and her family, and the people she encounters when she goes to school in Melville, takes drama classes, interacts with children and families in her neighbourhood who go to Model C and formerly whites-only schools. Her story is also the story of the difficulty of “fitting in” to previously white spaces that had become “for all”.

WaAzania pens her memoir as a letter to the governing party, who she charges with the failure to make real the promises of democracy.

The architects of apartheid and white people who continue to benefit from the structures and institutions of apartheid get off pretty lightly as she presents her indictment of the ANC and its failure to deliver on the “new South Africa dream” in her lifetime.

The book is also an account of the development of her own consciousness and political ideology. The author realises that, for her, freedom must be accompanied by radical economic reform and a rejection of neoliberalism.

And so the latter part of the book is a journey, albeit brief, of working with the black consciousness group, Blackwash, and later her part in the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters and her ideological and personal squabbles with Andile Mngxitama, Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema.

The tone often comes across as self-important as WaAzania looks at South Africa in a way that knows better, that sees things for what they “truly” are.

The book falls short on structural analysis, but that’s really not what it’s aim is.

It tells the story of the many for whom democratic South Africa has largely only brought political freedom but for whom socioeconomic freedom remains elusive and begs the question: how free is born free?

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