OPINION: The born-frees rise up

The term 'born-free' is one I didn't choose for myself. It came along with all the expectations and pressures society decided to place on my generation.

I didn't realise there was anything peculiar about the time I was born until we started learning about Freedom Day in primary school and, of course, along with that came the telling of how life used to be before 1994.

I believe the intentions of those who taught us about apartheid were pure, but sadly the lessons were misplaced. It seemed we were taught about the struggles people of colour faced to make us realise how fortunate we were. Those history lessons were preached to us as gospel, neatly packaged and ready for uncontested consumption.

Nobody thought there would be a day when the born-frees would question the terms and conditions of this freedom, and certainly nobody dreamed of the day when they would stand up against their emancipators.

When the Fees Must Fall movement emerged last year, many were surprised. How quickly it gained momentum and its strength nationally was truly unbelievable. I remember speaking to my mother about the big march to the Union Buildings. She wasn't keen on me going. I didn't have to ask why. During the June 1976 protests, she was almost shot in the belly while heavily pregnant with my older brother. She cringes every time she thinks about what could have happened.

However, I was still adamant about going to the march. With students from numerous universities making their way to Pretoria, we all knew that it was going to be an important day in history. The face of the Fees Must Fall movement was an interesting one. Being led by both the ANC and the EFF meant it wasn't a battle between political parties, and having both black and white protesters also meant it wasn't a fight between races. It was a fight against a broken system that favoured privilege.

After the emergence of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements, comments like, "I don't understand why these kids are so angry" became quite common. This made me question why I am so angry. I knew I was unhappy with the turn freedom in our country had taken. I was unhappy with how little progress had been made in eradicating poverty, in granting the same opportunities to the poor that the rich had. But I believe the biggest problem that caused a stir and a long overdue outburst was the failed attempt by both government and citizens to forge social cohesion.

Being the last born and much younger than my siblings, my parents could afford to send me to what was then known as Model C schools. I happened to be one of three black children in my nursery school and the only black child in my class, and so by default I had white friends. I remember playing with my group of friends when one child said I couldn't go on the jungle gym because I didn't have long flowy hair. I didn't realise it then but I started hating the texture of my hair.

Later on in my school life I had similar experiences and they angered me immensely. I started having opinions about white people that weren't necessarily based on truth. Now, as I look back and wonder why the youth of this country has had an outburst at this time, I realise we had been suppressing our opinions for far too long, we had been living with a green-eyed monster, hiding him away from each other. We would only let him out when we were with those we could trust, only then would we share how we really felt about our young democracy. That was the only time we could share our true sentiments about issues of race and freedom. Little did we know that there would come a day where we could not tame him any more, when our views and truths about this country would have to escape.

It's time we used a radical and sharp approach to issues of governance and freedom as we strive to become a socially cohesive people. For me, this Freedom Day is about celebrating how the door for honest dialogue and introspection in our quest for emancipation has been opened by none other than our born-frees.

Kgomotso Modise is a member of the Eyewitness News team based in Johannesburg.