Story by Francesca Batault
Growing up in South Africa has undoubtedly been one of the most enriching and empowering experiences of my life; there is little that South Africa does not offer. School mornings began with the warm embrace of the African sun, class excursions took us to the heart of Soweto and the depths of Khoi-San cave art, and our outdoor education embraced the challenges of wildlife preservation and survival skills. However, South Africa offers much more than an adventurous playground for its children; the exposure to different ethnicities, cultures, religions and backgrounds make South Africa’s youth unique in their perspectives and approach to life.
I grew up as a ‘born free’- the first generation born after the end of Apartheid, with this came great freedom, hope and an immense responsibility for the future of our country. For the first time a generation of children aimed to look beyond their parents prejudice and classmates’ skin color; it was no longer a system of ‘black or white’ but rather, one that cherished the cultural differences and highlighted the similarities we shared as citizens of the Rainbow Nation. As little children, we were fortunate to grow up where the color of one’s skin did not matter to us, we no longer perceived this distinction that had caused so much strife and misery. We were a new generation with new hopes and aspirations and new ideas on the kind of society we chose to live in.
I was first introduced to the notion of ‘Ubuntu’ in the fourth grade. When asked for a definition, my teacher described it as something that makes a person ‘good’. I did not think much of it at the time and was rather confused by the answer I was given. With age, nuance and a little more wisdom, I grew to understand that this seemingly simple word holds incredible significance for the people of South Africa. Loosely translated from isiZulu, Ubuntu means humanity. Once, when asked to explain the concept of Ubuntu Nelson Mandela defined it as a concept “based on the profound sense that we are only human through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.” I am because you are. This word speaks to the compassion, the heart, the hope and the future of South Africa.
I cannot say that there was an exact moment that sparked my passion for global issues but I can credit it entirely to my childhood and the development of the spirit of Ubuntu in me. As I grew older, I began to notice that South Africa had not entirely come out of the troubles of Apartheid. While segregation is no longer constitutionally viable, it is pervasive in daily life. The inequalities created under Apartheid have continued to divide the country’s population. The black African community is still at a systematic economic and social disadvantage in terms of schooling, employment and financial opportunities. Rampant corruption, poor economic growth and a distrust of the current government have resurfaced old tensions that threaten to unseat South Africa from the incredible progress it has made. And therefore, I choose, day after day, to pursue a career centered around global issues.
South Africa, and its beautiful spirit of Ubuntu have inspired me to pursue my dreams, in hopes that one day, all that I achieve will be brought back to my South Africa and I will be able to give back to the country and the people that have made me all that I am. I have great dreams for myself, and even greater dreams for South Africa.
I am because of who you are, South Africa.