Recently, Her Zimbabwe’s Fungai Machirori conducted an interview with South African writer, Malaika wa Azania (born Malaika Mahlatsi), to get her perspectives on South Africa 20 years into democracy. As a concept, ‘born free’ has been popularly used to refer to young people born of post-colonial democracies and forms a central thesis in wa Azania’s book ‘Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation’. Wa Azania – who was born in 1991 and therefore qualifies as a ‘born free’ – however refutes such a concept as a ‘born free’ and states the following in her book;
“I may not have been born during the times of constitutionalised apartheid but I still remain a product of an epoch of systematic, individualised and institutionalised apartheid. So nothing about me or those who were born after me is free.” (page 7)
You can watch the video interview below.
This a short transcription from one of the questions posed.
Fungai Machirori: At the same time as you speak of all of these issues, Malaika is a published author at the age of 23 and goes to a very prestigious university, Rhodes, and has gotten access into spaces that many other young people wouldn’t. You have a column as well in the newspaper. How then do you juxtapose your critique against this? You are obviously a person of privilege, but also you are also a person of historical oppression. How do you then speak as a representative as well as a voice of the young and urban and oppressed, but then also articulate your privileges in a way that makes sense?
Malaika wa Azania: You know, I always say that for me you don’t measure the success of a nation on the basis of individuals who are able to access certain spaces when that system or that society is constructed in such a way that the majority is bound to be on the periphery of those privileges. So, yes, I speak as Malaika – a child from a very poor background, a child who grew up in a shack, who was a raised in a shack her whole life, who went to live in a RDP (Reconstruction Development Programmes) settlement and who today is living in Grahamstown renting her own apartment able to pay her rent, who works for The Sunday Independent, who has published through Jacana, who has traveled the world and been to four different continents.
She has had those privileges, right?
But you are speaking about Malaika. One child. One young black person from Soweto in a community or a township that has got millions of other Malaikas who will never be able to access this space. And that is why, for me, the system itself is problematic because it is not designed in such a way that everybody will be a beneficiary; it’s designed to create a few Malaikas.
The system is comfortable with a few Malaikas. The system does not want to be annihilated, it does not want itself to collapse and so it creates Malaikas who present an image that it’s possible; that it can be done if you work harder and that if you dream more, you will succeed. But those are false narratives. I am a beneficiary and a victim of that system in the same way… Today I’m be able to have all these things, I can travel the world, I can be in spaces and all of that. But the fact of the matter is that because of my historical predisposition, it still means that even with the money that I make, it can’t just be about Malaika.
Malaika can make enough money to buy herself a car and drive today, but Malaika still takes taxis because Malaika has got a family, a line of people that she still needs to look after. She’s got a mother who is not working, she’s got a little brother who is at school whose father is absent, she’s got an aunt who is at university who was rejected by NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) at the beginning of the year… So the system is not designed to ensure that the structures themselves are changed.
It just wants to create a few black diamonds, the shining blacks who present a false mirage that seeks to suggest that everybody can get there. But the system itself is not designed for everybody to benefit. And so it’s a very difficult space to navigate for those of us who have been able to escape the claws of the brutality of that system.