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  • Yesterday, the first of South Africa's born-frees turned 18. That's what we call everyone born since those first democratic elections. Born free. Born into a country with a Constitution that affords equal right to everyone, regardless of whether or not they passed the pencil test.

    [An aside, I was in my early twenties before I learnt that in most of the world, the pencil test determines whether or not a woman has the assets to go braless in public. I only knew of it as the test for racial identity South Africa used during Apartheid. If your hair held a pencil, you were black.]

    I don't remember much about the first Freedom Day or what it meant. I was 11 in 1994. Over the years since I've pieced together that my parents were like so many white English-speaking South Africans. They didn't agree with Apartheid, but neither were they activists. They honestly didn't know what was going on. They heard a few reports of uprisings and violence informal settlements, and they were happy when Nelson Mandela was released. So they went to vote for a new South Africa. I remember my parents standing for hours in a queue at a voting station set up at a local school. For the first time they queued with black people. Afterwards, black kids started turning up at school.

    The first born frees, the ones born on the day my parents stood in queue, are now legal adults. Old enough to drink, old enough to drive, old enough vote. But they're still teenagers and they have a lot to learn.

    So does our democracy.

    Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika.

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