Dashiki Dialogues: Born-frees and our dangerous myths

2013-04-28 14:00

I know a woman who likes to ­dismiss young people’s ­opinions as “useless tendencies of the born-frees”. I used to find her ­unacceptably bossy and unable to benefit from youthful wisdom.

Then, as Freedom Day approached, I found myself having to deal with my ­teenage nephew’s politics, or lack thereof. He belongs to that group we ­generally refer to as born-frees.

But aren’t this lot, along with the leadership that produces them, ­victims of myths that are as ­dangerous as they were once thought to be useful?

They are a national myth that ­articulates the idea of being South ­African outside of the specifics of the country’s contested political ­history.

Born-frees are a people free from remembering. They become victims of the ­mythologies we organise to build a new or post-apartheid South Africa.

This is to say that the tag sanitised them of this larger ­memory so that the South Africa they belong to was hatched clean out of Nelson ­Mandela’s rainbow dream in 1994.

This is a post-prison Mandela, not the one capable of revolutionary ­violence. He is our beautiful, smiling saint – not the firebrand who was a commander in a guerrilla army.

The born-frees, severed from all the ugly things of our pre-1994 memory, are projected as our ­innocent hope at forging a new ­people, a people unified away from all the things that used to divide us pre-1994.

But this is a ­stalemate.

The born-frees find themselves needing to make sense of our ­troubled present and unfolding ­future. Our collective discontent ­demands to be explained. The ­answers lie in our history, an ugly history we have made uncool and unprogressive to invoke in public.

Since they have been discouraged from reaching ­into this memory, it is unavailable to them as a resource for ­solving problems.

The Marikana massacre, the ever-exploding service-delivery protests, crime and poverty are irrational and baffling to this lot. These things

are inexplicable when seen outside of historical policies of dispossession along with complications wrought by the ineptitudes of the current­ ­government.

The truth is that South Africans have not really built a strong public discourse to unpack what apartheid really was. At best, we explain it as a time when white people treated black people badly. They were ­arresting and, at times, killing some. Then, in 1994, Mandela came out of prison and made it all go away.

So here, then, we have a nation unable to dialogue with its old wounds, hence it dresses its children in ­borrowed dashikis.

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