'Do you own your freedom?' Reflecting on Cape Town youths' aspirations to be free

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Mercy Brown-Luthango
Rosca van Rooyen


Young people make up half of the world’s population and constitute the majority of the population across the Global South (Cooper et al. 2019). In South Africa, the youth constitute one-third of the country’s population, many of whom belong to the so-called ‘born free’ generation. The ‘born free’ generation typically refers to those who were born after the end of Apartheid, or those who were coming of age after 1994. The youth, particularly in cities of the South, represent an excluded majority in terms of access to meaningful employment and quality living environments.

This article reflects on a research project which used narrative photovoice as a method to engage a group of 13 young people from Mitchell’s Plain, Philippi and Gugulethu; poor marginalised areas in Cape Town. Narrative photovoice combines photography with writing to give participants an opportunity to convey particular stories or issues through their photography. Through a process of co-production and collaboration between academic researchers, a community-based organisation (CBO) called ‘Youth for Change’ and a creative enterprise called ‘noDREAD’productions, the youth were engaged in a creative process using photographs to tell stories about themselves, their communities and the broader city context in which they live.

This article draws on Appadurai’s notion of the ‘capacity to aspire’ to make sense of the aspirations and dreams the participants talk about through their photographs; how they navigate structural, psychological and other factors which impede their aspirations and their freedom, and how they make sense of their everyday realities. The article advances two interlinked arguments: firstly, it makes visible the ‘navigational capacity’ of youth from marginalised neighbourhoods and their capacity to aspire amidst multiple constraints. It does so by illustrating how the youth grapple with the idea and experience of freedom in their everyday life. Secondly, it makes a case for the use of photovoice as a method that is well positioned to (a) capture the visual dimension of youth aspirations and (b) allow for co-production between the different stakeholders.

Article Details

Research articles (Refereed)
Author Biography

Rosca van Rooyen, University of Cape Town

PhD student 


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