Memoirs of a born-free | by Malaika Wa Azania

by Oct 15, 2014Magazine

A review by Xoliswa Skomolo

In 1990, South Africa crossed the rubicon of apartheid, and all babies born thereafter are referred to as “born-frees”. One of them is the author of this book. It is an elaborate and rich narrative – a roller coaster of a journey that has the ups and downs of a life time, though it covers only 20 years.

Wa Azania starts by analysing the circumstances of her birth. She starts with her grandmother, who migrated to the “city of gold” in the 1960s to face endless crushing poverty. She then looks at the story of her mother, who was a young political activist in the 1980s, but who nevertheless did not escape this crushing poverty. Then she tells her own story as someone who is said to be “born free”, but still caught up in the same poverty. As she grows up, this situation awakens in her spirit the power to observe, to contemplate and to question. In frustration, she writes a letter to the ANC, which has been in government throughout her life time, to seek answers. This is the essence of the book.

The book exposes the reader to the different faces of our rainbow nation. One of them is poverty and hardship experienced by children who are born and grow up in the squatter camps, and the difficulties they face in acquiring a meaningful education that can give them a good head start in life. One comes away from this book with an overwhelming impression of by the near impossibility of the challenge of breaking through these poverty barriers.

Through the efforts of her mother, who sees the green pastures on the other side of the economic river that divides South Africa, Wa Azania is able to attend a suburban school, where she is confronted by an educational culture shock. Her life involves contradictions: a virtual life mixing with the haves at school; a real life of unyielding poverty in the township. Sometimes she is forced to find unconventional ways of earning money, such as writing essays for the lazy children of the rich in return for payment. Despite these odds, she gets through.

All along, she tells us, her spirit is ‘struggling to find answers to the meaning of freedom’. It dawns on her that political freedom without economic freedom is not freedom. Embracing a burning desire to be part of a force that will bring about change, she clutches at different straws in her search for an ideological and political home. Disappointments await, but she moves on.

This book is clearly the first instalment of a longer work that we can expect the author to write in the course of time. It is a spell-binding piece of literature that every South African, black and white, should read.

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