The Future Is Not What We Thought It Would be: The Gap Between Aspirations and Actualisation in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:48
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Fawzia HAERI MAZANDERANI, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
This paper focuses on the experiences of previously disadvantaged South African youth residing in a rural township in Mpumalanga province. These young adults are controversially referred to as the ‘born free’ generation, growing up in a democracy that officially offers them equal opportunities yet continues to grapple with the legacy of apartheid. Despite the majority of ‘born frees’ facing poor education and high unemployment,  existing research indicates ambitious future aspirations among this group, the presence of which has been linked to affirmative action policies and the pervasive rhetoric of freedom and opportunity in the ‘new South Africa.’ Drawing upon post-structural theories which recognise the historically embedded nature of identity, this paper explores the discourses which inform how the ‘born free’ generation account for their past, present and future lives.  Through analysing empirical qualitative data, it considers the influences to emerge from schooling and home environments as well as other significant resources that young people draw upon as they develop their ‘possible selves.’ Informed by extant literature which indicates the gap between aspirations and achievement among South African youth, this paper employs a theoretical framework which explores the key dynamic of ‘structure’ and ‘agency.’ It reflects upon the extent to which these young adults recognise potential constraints on their ability to realise their aspirations, and the degree to which they deem themselves individually responsible for their futures. Drawing upon extant literature in the sociology of South African youth, this paper considers how few ‘born free’ South Africans make an explicit link between apartheid and their present life socio-economic circumstances. Informed by postcolonial theory, it argues that a historically situated awareness of present socio-economic circumstances can play a vital role in forming the critical consciousness necessary for young South Africans to create, rather than merely inherit their futures.