The born-free generation knows apartheid only through stories, and at times they find its reality hard to grasp. Some are unsure how it affected their parents' or grandparents' lives. Lwando Nkamisa, 26, thinks that's because the trauma is so recent: "Apartheid only ended 25 years ago; many of our parents are still too traumatized to talk about it. They would rather talk about slavery in America, the caste system in India, or racism in Europe, than about apartheid in South Africa. I think they don't want to reopen old wounds.”
While some born-frees still encounter racist attitudes, the majority, especially in larger cities, feel that racism is slowly disappearing with the old generation. Most of them harbor no resentment toward other ethnic groups, and say they either are or could be friends with someone of another color. "In the end we're all South African," says Shane Veeran, 23, who has wrestled with his own Indian descent: too white to be black, too black to be white. "We all bleed South African blood."
Those that don’t have friends outside their own group attribute that to practical reasons that stem from the country’s divided past. “I don't live in a place where I can meet a lot of white people and have white friends,” says Zinhle Mfaba, 24. She lives in Soweto, the sprawling township outside Johannesburg that was once designed to segregate the city's black workers outside the exclusively white city center, and is still largely black.
Kevin du Plessis, 28, started questioning his parents’ racist attitudes at a young age. The vast majority of his social life is still white, but he attributes that to circumstance rather than attitude: “I have a lot more white friends, because in Gauteng province where I live, you don't find that many black kids who speak Afrikaans. It's just so much easier to socialize and be yourself in your own language.”
Though overt racism against people of color is declining, institutional racism is still common. In 2019 an independent commission researched allegations of racism at the University of Cape Town and found there was evidence of a "systematic suppression of black excellence" at the university. And racist attacks do still occur, across the color spectrum: white against black, black against coloured, coloured against Indian, and every combination in between. Though the media report these attacks as the isolated stories they are, many older South Africans feel them as a blanket offensive: all of "them" against all of "us".
Younger South Africans have a chance to end this violent legacy: they have only ever known mixed schools, mixed bars and mixed hospitals. But their parents were raised in the segregated past, and not all of them are ready to leave it behind.