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Robyn Murning MA

PhD candidate

Area(s) of interest: African History, Colonialism & Postcolonialism, Identity, Memory Studies

Cohort/Start PhD: 2023-2024

‘We feel the agony of apartheid, but we don’t know why”: Memory and identity of South Africa’s ‘born free’ generation

Erasmus University Rotterdam

Supervisors: Prof.dr. Gijsbert Oonk, dr. Robbert-Jan Adriaansen

Duration of appointment: January 2024-January 2028

This project examines the identity and memory experiences of South Africa’s first post-apartheid ‘born free’ generation. Partly an invention of a self-narrative that encompassed post-apartheid ideals of ‘rainbowism’ across racial and ethnic lines, the ‘born frees’ have been faced with a complicated ‘new’ South Africa. They embody the tensions and contradictions found between the bright promises of their so-called ‘free’ identity, the deeply melancholic memory culture that they experience in daily life, and the scars left behind by prolonged apartheid oppression – etched into the colour of their skin, felt through their ethnic identity, seen through their still-unequal economic opportunities, or experienced spatially on the geography of the very land they live on, which is still noticeably divided along ethnic lines to this day. This generation has lived a paradox, having inherited the inequalities and violent legacies left in the wake of apartheid despite their perceived ‘freedom’ from it. In order to analyse the construction of ‘born free’ identity politics and the tensions between generationality, ethnicity and memory, this project will take a bottom-up, mixed methods approach. It will examine a broad range of sources, including life-narrative interviews, ‘born free’ identity politics as presented in state discourse, and media representations of identity both about ‘born frees’ and produced by them. In doing so, this research will capture the dual-process of self-identification and attribution of generational identity, generating valuable insights into the entanglement of generational identity and national narratives in a post-colonial world.