Two out of three university students in a small exploratory study conducted by the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection‭ (‬MISTRA‭) ‬associated themselves with the label‭ “‬born free‭” – ‬but this does not mean they believe they are liberated from historic injustice and inequality.

Questions were put to‭ ‬35‭ ‬university students at a university that is now racially diverse but was originally all-white.‭

More than half the sample felt they had not dealt effectively with inter-generational trauma.‭ ‬They mentioned resentments arising from past oppression and the fact that land dispossession lived on into their generation.

Forty percent felt they had engaged effectively with past trauma and their comments suggested that they felt able to view the world differently from their parents,‭ ‬aspired to‭ “‬maintain the freedom Nelson Mandela fought for‭”‬,‭ ‬and had their sights set on‭ “‬break(ing‭) ‬boundaries‭”‬.

Three-quarters felt their lives were different from those of their parents in terms of better opportunities,‭ ‬basic democratic freedoms,‭ ‬and social contact between people of different races.

But respondents recognised numerous examples of intergenerational trauma in the world around them:‭ ‬dislike between black and white people,‭ ‬continuing anger about apartheid,‭ ‬and the legacy of poverty and inequality which particularly affects black people.

Asked what South Africans can do to heal intergenerational trauma,‭ ‬answers fell into three main groups that can be very roughly summarised as:

  • Put the past behind us,‭ ‬seize all new opportunities and get on with building a better life.
  • Educate young people about the past,‭ ‬raise awareness of its impact,‭ ‬facilitate dialogue and build trust between groups in society.
  • Focus on redress and material reparation,‭ ‬including access to equal education and land redistribution.

The study,‭ ‬conducted by Wandile Ngwaweni and Temoso Mashile,‭ ‬concluded that young people have a different understanding of intergenerational trauma than the narratives created by the state and older generations.‭ ‬Furthermore,‭ ‬born frees are starting to own this conversation.