Black youth and the new democracy

What do young black people think about the new South Africa?

What do young black people think about the new South Africa?


A glimpse into their thoughts was provided by a youth letter writing competition mounted between late 1995 and early 1996 which drew a nationwide response. The letters were solicited as part of a project by the Quality of Life Unit at the University of Natal, Durban. More than 900 letters were received, more than 80% from black youths aged 13 to 30. A fuller account will appear in the book based on the Quality of Life project, My Life in the New South Africa [forthcoming, 1997).


Although the letters received were not statistically representative, they had a strong suggestive value and reflected the uninhibited thoughts, hopes, concerns and aspirations of young South Africans living in townships, suburbs, shack areas, rural areas and even prisons.


In some ways these excerpts from the letters say more than survey data can:

Now we have new constitution [set of law]. Then South Africa was back to normal. It was same like summer season. The children were playing freely. The dams were full of water the crops were growing in the fields. The sky was blue and the birds were flying around.

Penelope, Lamontville

What I do love is that in the past SO years no blacks were allowed in the first classes and nowadays everybody have equal. Now blacks can go to any beach they like to. The only thing that I really love is that blacks and white are sharing one life. The things that I hate are first apartheid and violence.

Thabeko, Lamontville


Many young South Africans are enjoying new found freedoms

The Mandela factor

For many respondents Mandela was omnipresent and helped to give young people confidence in their futures.

My life is also encouraged and motivated by the new President in the new South Africa. He tries to meet the aspiration of his people irrespective of colour, religion, sex equally, etc. He encourages us to go back to school, because the majority of South African are illiterates. He encouraged my life through his action like providing free health services to children of under the age of six and women who are expecting. There is also stability in labour and business activities which also impressed my life.

Dorah, Tsakane

I know Mr. Mandela is a good president for us but people need more. But God is there for you Mr Mandela to help you and us to get house and jobs. We need you Mr Mandela you are the father and God for us. If SA can come together we can make this world a better place and I now Mr Mandela he can make this new SA to be a better place. To we in white schools about you Mr Mandela. I know you love people of SA and they love you too. I love you Mr Mandela,

Bongani, Jhb-Gresswold

In my life during 1980s South Africa was ruled by autocratic rules those were Afrikaners. The world was dry and it seems as there were no children. It was lonely. The dams were dry (no water). The plants were not growing up on me it was like autumn season. Wherethe road was a scarce. No water to drink no clothes to wear. The animals were dying like insects. I even thought that South Africa will never be free. The important political parties were burned. Our parents were not allowed to go to town without passes. There was no freedom of speech and press. There were place where the blacks were not allowed to enter. The children [black) were not allowed to school in whites schools. There was no patriotism. It was the first time in this world an African become President that was Madiba. He then spread the ideas of nationalism and liberty to all Africans. And there were many changes made by him. The jobs were provided, schools, clinics, Police Stations etc. The black students were allowed to go to Indian, white, coloured school. There was freedom of speech and press. Everyone is now allowed to have a say at the government. Mandela is like steel which you can't break, he can break you. He is a diamond, Mandela Hoorah!

Penelope, Lamontville

A great sense of opportunity opening up

I'm jobless and unemployed after matric but what's important is I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks to all our freedom fighters and to some of us as supporters. Now because liberty is in our hands everything regarding SA's government is possible internationally and nationally. We will all recall that during that segregation period [era] internationally we were isolated but now the gates are opened regardless of race and gender.

Mduduzi, Mkhuhlu

The South African situation at the present moment demands that an individual tries to strike the balance to avoid disillusionment and despondency. One does however need to look at the brighter side of life in order to survive. South Africa before 1994 has not been a country for any liberated person to live in especially for the black African, hence many people left the country to join the liberation forces or sought greener pastures abroad. I have lived partly through the old South Africa with its repressive laws which were directed at the black communities so as to keep them down as heavers of wood and drawers of water for the superior race. The black communities have all along been living from hand to mouth with no prospect of every owning anything. I am also in that group. I see myself being able to rise to the limits of my capability since all obstacles have been removed. The removal of all the chains, which tied down the black race, has opened the channels that one may follow in order to improve ones quality of life in the New South Africa.

(no personal details given by respondent)

But not everyone is satisfied

The way I see things is that the New South Africa doesn't seem to satisfy the people and me myself I'm not satisfied the way the country is being governed. That is why I want to be the leader, when I'm sitting down thinking what they are doing is wrong even their new constitution I don't think it will be drafted even if it drafted they won't keep what they've promised in writing.

Cyphus, Tokoza

I am living a primitive life and it became worse since the new South Africa because my mother lost her work just because of the 'Black President' who came into being our first electoral president. Which show us that apartheid is still there. Where I am living is There is still much to complain about really disgusting. Street-lights does not work well. We usually stay in dark neighbourhoods. And when it is dark is when many people are killed because they can't see in the dark. I don't like the way which we South Africans behave towards each other. We hate each other just because of our skin, colour and culture. We still call ourselves the 'Rainbow Nation' but still have that apartheid. The rate of teenage pregnancy, child abuse, rape, murder and sexual harassment have started up since the beginning of New South Africa.

Dirk, Galeshwe, Kimberley


A fragile new democracy?

Do people really understand the meaning of the word democracy? Teenagers are so fond of saying it is their democratic right to be absent from school to be lazy and to ignore teachers. At home they exercise their democratic right to contradict their parents. I think people should study the meaning of the word from a dictionary or encyclopaedia and understand what they're talking about.

Carol, Ntuzuma

And what I dislike is that my friends and relatives they say that by the next coming elections they want to return back to the old government because the present one is too slow to act, this makes me feel worried more than enough because by saying this they call back segregation system which is unwanted because of it's division between South Africans.

Mduduzi, Mkhuhlu

One of the things I feel strongly about in our so called New South Africa, is the corruption within our government and our Police Force. Our Police are involved in many criminal activities, such as car theft and tax violence. We don't know who to trust anymore, because some of the Police have become the enemies of the society. I feel that the government we have voted for is cheating us. Where are all the jobs that were promised us during the general elections campaign? Where is the free and compulsory education that we were promised? I, as the youth of this country feel that the government should deliver the expected goods, or face the anger and frustrations of the youth of this country, otherwise they would kiss the parliament good-bye.

Petros, Katlehong

In government they introduce the black people as Minister. For the first in the world there was a black president, which I'm proud of my country. In some other cases we found people treating black pupil bad for their black president e.g. when a black person is kick of the job because he is not satisfied of the treatment they say to him 'go and tell your black president'. I'm worry by the time I grow older, everything will be mess like us in Zulu Natal. The Minister don't want to participate in building our future, people are killing other people because he is ANC or he is IFP. I am very worried about this problem if they don't solve it early it will be too late. Many people will die without being guilt. The society will in mess time. Some people don't want to vote in following election of councils.

Mandy, Ntuzuma

Enthusiasm for the RDP idea

Many organisations have sprung up. The RDP which is a non-profit organisation has done an immense bit of work in trying to maintain parts of the rural areas. They have assisted in building schools, shelters and small businesses. There are, however a few setbacks.

Denise, Shalkross

But disappointment with delivery

Since we have a new President I really do not see what is happening. People are still unemployed, many people live in shacks along main roads, we have a tremendous amount of homeless people and what is being done, absolutely nothing. I attend a youth club, where we try very hard by having meals given to homeless people, especially the kids, we sometimes cannot go on giving food parcels out because we don't have any financial support from any sponsors. Most of us take our allowance and contribute it to the kids, but that's not part of what they really need. I really wish something could be done.

Jaqueline, Ennerdale

Some like the TRC

The thing that I like is truth commission, and what I like about it is this they are dealing with the past things because other people still wondered about what happen to their beloved ones. Then they found out about it and see that person who do that thing, and they don't hold grudges to each other, and you know what if someone do bad thing then you hold it, it make [you] a lot of pain than talk about it.

Thabo, Lamontville

But some don't

I also feel strongly about the so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To my point of view this Commission is only provoking the emotions of the past to most black majorities and escalate the previous perpetrators. I wonder how can President Mandela appoint such commission whereas himself preach daily about forgetting the past so as to socialise with the a new.

Should those who suffer the findings of the Commission seek support from their dirty colleague, I fear that peace will ever be a loss since every party in power will have to do with the dirty tricks of the previous one. Why can't we be same and sing with one voice that Satan was buried in the Old South Africa and Messiah is downing in the New South Africa.

We all know about Manna and why was provided to the Israelites but the issue of Manna is no longer bearing its importance even in Israel today. If Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu is earning R276 000,00 per annum, then five of his staff members will earn more that R750 000,00 per annum.

I think that more than a R l million is deadly needed to boost the RDP. More lightly is the fact that no one will be suffering unemployment since Tutu is enjoying his special chair in front of Congregation. The same to his colleagues who were recruited from their professionals.

Frans, Kempton Park


Thus it will be seen that a whole year before the HSF-MarkData survey (see first article) the essential structure of opinion found then was already visible: a strong sense of euphoria, centring on the figure of Mandela on the one hand and a sense of expanding opportunity for black youth on the other - offset by growing grumbles about poor delivery and the gravy train.


The underlying pessimism from South Africa's dark past still lurks beneath but is weighed down under a wave of optimism and buoyancy. Should the government stumble badly - particularly in a post-Mandela future - these more negative feelings could well resurface.