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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Youth: “Born Frees” and the Predicament of Being Young in Post-Apartheid South Africa


If South Africa’s intellectual history is defined in generational terms then it is possible to speak of a “generation gap” in the history of political and social ideas. Whereas in the 1940s, the elitist and quiescent leadership of the African National Congress was jostled into action by the “Young Lions” of the Youth League; and whereas the literary opposition to apartheid was led from within the Afrikaner/Afrikaans community by the Sestigers—“the Generation of theSixties”—“youth” in South Africa today is not synonymous with political and philosophical innovation. This paper will explore the problems of “youthfulness” and “rejuvenation” in South African political thought by describing the ways in which the “Born Frees” could conceive an intellectual “manifesto,” as both an alternative to the post-apartheid “death of ideas” and as a revision of the historiography on “youth” that has been the foundation of narratives about the young since the 1976 Soweto uprising.

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