South Africa

YOUTH SPEAK | 'Growing up as young black man in post-apartheid SA, I find myself living as a hybrid being'

YOUTH SPEAK | 'Growing up as young black man in post-apartheid SA, I find myself living as a hybrid being'

My name is Njabulo Hlophe and my artist pseudonym is “Dirty Native”. I grew up in Johannesburg, however I currently reside in Stellenbosch, completing my degree in Visual Communication from the Stellenbosch Academy of Design. I consider myself a storyteller. I just happen to use materials like paint and ink to tell my stories.

I first met Nicole* while she was attending her second year at the academy. She immediately caught my attention with her bold hair dye, and I later got to see the creative talent that lies behind it. We have been friends ever since that first moment.

* Read his friend Nicole Taylor’s essay here

Scars of freedom

Growing up as young black man in post-apartheid SA, I find myself living as a hybrid being, constantly negotiating with different sides of my identity.

Thanks to the efforts of the men and women who laid their lives on the line in the pursuit of freedom, as well as many young people who lost their lives in the events that occurred on June 16 1976, I did not have to live under the harsh rules of apartheid that made life unbearable for many black South Africans. I do not have to worry about being educated in a language I do not understand.  I can choose exactly where I want to study and be exposed to many different cultures and experiences.

I do not have to cower at the sight of white people with the fear it might be the last time I am seen alive. However, with this freedom came a price and it seems it is a debt that is never fully repaid. Although integration between white communities and black communities is taking place daily, the effects of the segregation that preceded it are very clear.

The wounds inflicted by the pain of apartheid run deep: I am a young South African black male living in a free land, a land of opportunity, raised by parents who did not grow up under the same conditions.

My parents’ childhood did not include freedom the way I know it nor opportunity the way I am exposed to, so how are they expected to teach these ideas to me? How are they meant to raise me to believe this as not only fact but reality?

Because of this disconnect I spent the first half of my life learning about the world in which I live in  the society I am a part of, and the rest of my life figuring out what my position is in all of this.

Constantly learning and unlearning inherited behaviours is like a never-ending collage project, cutting and pasting and cutting and pasting. Constantly I had to rip parts of myself away and stitch different aspects of myself together to create the version of me you see before you today, trying to make sense of it all.

I do not have to worry about being educated in a language I do not understand. I can choose exactly where I want to study and be exposed to many different cultures and experiences

It feels like being trapped in darkness for years and receiving the first stroke of light directly to the eye, too bright for your untrained eye but all the more alluring.

As harsh a contrast as it is, the light t we call freedom does hurt. It hurts the families of those whose lives were the price to pay, it hurts the children of those who have to make sense of this new world on their own because they have to grapple with a myriad of intersecting realities in their daily lives, especially when the divide is very apparent.

I have to live my life knowing the pain that brought me here, alone, is still not enough to put me on equal footing with  some of my more privileged counterparts. However, it is not all pain and darkness. It is equally a feeling of euphoria to see that light called freedom.

One thing the wounds from constantly needing to tear myself apart and put myself back together again have granted me is an understanding of my resilience, of how powerful we are as a nation, especially if united.

Growing up, I did not come from a family with wealth. There were seasons when we didn’t have much at all, but what we did have was hope. Hope taught to us by our families who came from harsher times but had the hope that things would get better.

It is that hope instilled in me from a young age and, in the right circumstances, that hope is everything. The ability to never give up in the face of adversity and the ability to see light in dark times. More importantly, the hope that you possess the ability to change the world within yourself even when the world is saying otherwise,. That is what I inherited from the scars of my freedom.

One of the most beautiful things about living as a “born free” young person in SA is that it is made up of such a diverse group of nations who call this place home, each with their own rich and diverse histories and cultures, each with their own narrative to share.

What unites us all and makes us the strong nation of young people we are is our ability to hope. To hope for a better future for all South Africans and the understanding that united we have what it takes to make our world a better place.

We are made up of a colourful group of young people who are itching to make a statement in the world, who are fearless, whose scars have toughened their skin, who possess vast amounts of creativity and resilience.

It was pain that brought us here, but it is these scars we inherited that will remind us of where we come from, and how important it is for us to keep going.

We remember the pain, we remember the hardship and we say thank you to all those who played their part, as hard as it was, to ensure we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

We, the young people of SA, promise not to let all that pain and bloodshed be in vain and we promise to ensure we carry the movement forward and make a path well paved for the generations that will follow.