Why Are South Africa’s ‘Born Frees’ Scaring Zuma? – By Keith Somerville
South African President Jacob Zuma has reacted angrily to the use of the term ‘born frees’ for the generation of young South Africa who will get their first chance to vote in next year’s elections. Speaking at a voter registration drive in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, on 8th November he said that the term was propaganda and makes young people out to be idiots. Quite how he came to this conclusion that being ‘born free’ was being equated with being idiot, is not clear, but his nervousness about this generation is clear. Zuma’s retort is not just redolent of the ANC’s sensitivity to real or implied criticism; it is also a measure of the concern felt by the ANC about the voting intentions of the more than a million new voters potentially about to appear on the electoral roll.
‘Born free’ refers to the generation born in 1994 or afterwards, following the collapse of the apartheid system. Just over 600,000 South Africans were born in the year that the ANC was voted into office, with a similar number in the following two years. Not all will register to vote, but there could be half million new voters casting their ballots for the first time when the next general election takes place in 2014. This is over 5% of the electorate. The ANC is concerned that many of this generation will not register to vote, but is perhaps even more worried that those who do might not simply vote for the ANC as a matter of course, not being of the ‘struggle’ or ‘lost’ generations of the 1980s and the early 1990s, or what could be called the grand apartheid generation that preceded it. For those generations the ANC is still the party of struggle and liberation, even if its physical role was limited and it had to integrate and subordinate the UDF, COSATU and other domestic ‘struggle’ organisations once it was unbanned in 1990.
Zuma is extremely sensitive to criticism and negative media coverage and the ANC is constantly on the offensive against perceived criticism or slights – just witness the vituperation from the ANC’s spokespersons over art students who recently produced T-shirts mocking the President. The term ‘born free’ has been in use for some time, but the ANC has become increasingly sensitive to its use, thus Zuma’s tirade and the attempt to portray it as an insult to youths. There’s a simple reason for his anger: The term implies a generation that didn’t know apartheid, for whom it will be harder for the ANC to portray itself as the natural party of government and its now inflated account of its dominant role in fighting for black South Africans during the struggle.