Book Review: Memoirs of a bornfree: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation by Malaika wa Azania

By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

More than a year after the death of the nation’s great reconciler Nelson Mandela  and 20 years into our democracy this is a timely and important book, bringing to the fore important issues for our collective South African consciousness to grapple with. As someone who has often been told that she is “not like the other black people” and that I “speak so well”, I welcome the fact the much-feted bornfrees have a new face and a new voice. One that is articulate, but yet remains ‘unpalatable’. One that does not mince her words. One that does not have that ‘accent’. One that calls the ‘Rainbow Nation’ out on much of its, dare I say, BS. 

This post was originally published in July 2014 and is republished here as part of our one year anniversary retrospective.

Excerpt:

“Democracy is impossible without political freedom, but political freedom is not the ultimate objective of the revolutionary struggle. The ultimate objective is economic freedom, the liberation of the masses of our people from the clutches of economic bondage. But our people remain in chains. So, what about this generation, which has the mission of freeing people from those chains is ‘free’? What about us is reflective of a ‘born-free’ generation when our generation is born during a time of the struggle for economic freedom and the quest for the realisation of the objectives of the African Renaissance agenda?

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.”

This book, in the words of the author, is a raw and honest letter to the ANC, telling, through the life story of 22 year old ‘bornfree’ Malaika wa Azania, of great disillusionment, disappointment and anger with post-apartheid South Africa. Azania commits a taboo by continuously rejecting the notion of the ‘bornfree’ as she takes us through a brief history of her family, to her experiences in township and former model-C schools, university and her political dalliances with the ANC, Blackwash, EFF and other civic organisations.

In speaking to a number of ‘older people’ about this book, I have often heard the critique that Azania doesn’t set forth any new or coherent ideas, and seems to have used this book merely as a vehicle to vent. They would then offer that, of course this is “understandable”, because “she is young” and “will come into her own”. I do concur that this is not necessarily the best written book. Yes, Azania is at times self-righteous. There are some inconsistencies (for example use of Rosie the Riveter, an American cultural icon as the cover image of a book a pan-African, anti-Imperialist), yes.

However, to me, much of this kind of condescension and criticism of the book smacks of the ‘gaterkeeperism’ and agism that exists in South Africa where the troubles facing the youth are often announced with much hand-wringing whilst the youth in concern are not allowed to direct, much less be part of the conversation about themselves. That a perspective is not necessarily the most articulate or solution-focused, does not make it invalid.

Less than a year after the death of the nation’s great reconciler Nelson Mandela  and 20 years into our democracy this is a timely and important book, bringing to the fore important issues for our collective South African consciousness to grapple with. As someone who has often been told that she is “not like the other black people” and that I “speak so well”, I welcome the fact the much-feted bornfrees have a new face and a new voice. One that is articulate, but yet remains ‘unpalatable’. One that does not mince her words. One that does not have that ‘accent’. One that calls the ‘Rainbow Nation’ out on much of its, dare I say, BS. One that, may even be seen by some as the female doppleganger of Julius Malema, that is to say, someone who may be seen as part of an impending ‘swart gevaar’.

Whether you agree with their politics or not, voices such as Azanias, and not the palatable voices such as mine, that are too often and too easily co-opted into the happy Rainbow Nation narrative, are important because of the discomfort that they cause with their rhetoric. I say bravo because, if this book is a sign of future national conversations to come, I do believe South Africa may have a real chance at arriving at a workable and sustainable post-apartheid society.

FURTHER READING/WATCHING:

READ: BusinessDay: ‘Mandela’s legacy of compromise is defective’ – Aubrey Matshiqi

VISIT: Malaika wa Azania’s Thought Leader Blog

WATCH: SACSIS: Interview with Malaika wa Azania – ‘Black youth are not ‘bornfree’ in post-apartheid South Africa’

 

 

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