The New Face of South Africa

3976818191_017d7d3d79_o1The May/June issue of Afar magazine is out, and it’s running my feature on South Africa’s “Born-Frees,” the first generation to come of age after apartheid’s end. [Turn to page 71.] I tell the story through the life of my friend Thami Nkosi, a 29-year-old Soweto activist and inveterate shit-stirrer, and the group of guys he grew up with.

In many ways, Born-Frees like Thami represent South Africa’s future, and their lives tell us a lot about the country today, and the ways in which both Soweto and South Africa have changed since 1994′s “democratic miracle.” So many things have improved–there’s a large and growing middle class, for instance, and Soweto is booming, bristling with new condos and malls and parks. But it is an unfinished revolution. Decades ago, the older generation marched in the streets, firebombed buildings, and at great cost won political freedom. Unlike their fathers and grandfathers, whose lives were largely defined by the anti-apartheid struggle, the Born Frees have always been able to vote for whomever they like and say what they please. Political freedom, however, hasn’t fully translated to economic freedom. In essence, the Born-Frees’ struggle boils down to a single question, repeated daily in a variety of ways: How to make it in today’s South Africa?

A sample from the piece:

At a friend’s house in Dobsonville, we hunker down for a barbecue, or braai, as South Africans call it, with beer, sausage, and big communal handfuls of pap, a grits-like staple. Thami holds forth under a tent in the driveway, energetically opining on the media, American rappers, and South Africa’s woeful political order. “I see these Jaguars with Jacob Zuma stickers, and I wonder what that means,” he says. “There’s so much crap happening in this country.”

That evening, we drive up to a walled compound at the top of a hill. Sifiso lives in a small apartment here with his fiancée and daughter. The security guard opens the gate, and we park beside a line of late-model cars, all buffed to a high sheen. Young, turned-out Sowetans mingle while a DJ spins local house music; a friend points out the son of Aggrey Klaaste, a famous black journalist from the struggle years. Looking around the party, it’s easy to feel good about the future. “Soweto is coming up,” Sifiso says.

The magazine’s on newsstands now, and I’ve just found a low-res web version [Turn to page 71.]. Check it out.