Clem Sunter

The Born Frees

2013-06-07 12:50

Clem Sunter

At a breakfast this week, I was introduced to a new term "the Born Frees", being all those young people who were born in 1994 or thereafter in South Africa. The man who introduced this phrase to me was interested to know my opinion for which party those who fell into this category and were eligible to vote in the national election next year would cast their ballot. The point was that this would be the first election in which these young people could vote.

The great divide

My answer was non-committal as I do not think either of the two major parties in this country - the ANC and the DA - really offer much of substance to the Born Frees. The youth wing of the ANC have gone into a free fall ever since Julius Malema was expelled and are now up to their ears in debt. Whatever you may say about Julius and his forthcoming court appearance, he did have and probably still does have a considerable following among young people who feel economically disenfranchised. No young star has emerged in the ANC to fill his boots and wow the audiences like Julius did. Essentially the leadership of the ruling party is now a middle-aged and elderly bunch in the eyes of the Born Frees - more like Rodriguez than Justin Bieber.

As for the DA, nobody has emerged with the ability of Julius to have the crowds dancing and cheering and lapping up every word. There are some brilliant young intellectuals in the DA, but they do not possess the charisma necessary to swing the vote of the Born Frees in the DA's favour. All the other minority parties are led by the people of the same generation as the ANC. Yes, they do have some bright ideas about improving the prospects of young South Africans but they are not going to rock them in the aisle.

Consequently, there is a vacuum in the political arena. Even on the economic side the National Development Plan has failed to make a significant dent in the imagination of the vast majority of youth in their late teens and early twenties. I doubt whether many of them have read the voluminous document and nobody in the National Planning Commission has tried to turn it into a popular treatise or DVD topping the local charts. Maybe even a rap song is needed, highlighting the positives to a hypnotic beat and possessing a chorus line that everybody will remember when downloading it from YouTube. If Psy can do it with Gangnam Style , so can Trevor or Cyril.

Meet the young lions and lionesses

Meanwhile, I have had one experience of the Born Frees en masse this year. It was a meeting of the Investment Society at UCT in Jammie Hall. Being held in the evening, I thought a couple of dozen students would pitch up to the event - instead of which the hall was packed to capacity with not one member of the faculty being evident in the room. I talked about entrepreneurship, economic freedom and doing your own thing as the boss of your own small business as opposed to slaving away in some big company, the civil service or as a junior functionary in a public works programme. They gave me a standing ovation at the end when I said "for fox sake, let's make it happen".

Since then I have come across two projects which reflect the spirit of the new generation of Born Frees. The first is a partnership between Goldman Sachs and GIBS to empower young women to become successful entrepreneurs. As long as you as a member of the fairer sex have been in business for a year and have an annual turnover of between R200 000 and R7m and are located in Gauteng, Polokwane, North West Province or Mpumalanga, you can qualify for the programme.

The second initiative was celebrated at the breakfast I talked about at the beginning of the article: The Hope Factory which with the backing of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants has equipped 300 grassroots entrepreneurs to make it through the survivalist, subsistence phase and move towards becoming a sustainable small business and maybe a large corporate one day. I could mention many other projects as well.

The bottom line is that the Born Frees do not want handouts from the state, do not want to be slaves in some vast organisation and do not want to be fed the same old political and economic myths that their parents fell for. They do not want to walk behind anyone, they want to walk in front - creating their own future for themselves. It is our job as the older generation to provide the environment which allows those dreams to be fulfilled.

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