Tracking the future : young women's worlds.
This research focuses on young black women’s identity construction in the context of democratic South Africa. It focuses on how they negotiate adolescence and young adulthood as black females in a country with a history of racism. The assumption in the newly democratized South Africa is that opportunities are given on merit as opposed to the inequalities that existed according to racial differences during apartheid. The study aims to find out how young people construct and negotiate their identities and their view of their futures as well as possible threats to these future identities within this context. The young women’s narratives give insight into the state of the socio cultural context of post apartheid South Africa. These young women narrate their lives as the hinge generation: they are the first generation to grow up in the new and free South Africa the first generation to have access to a broad range of opportunities that were denied black people during apartheid governance. The young women’s narratives reveal a very fluid sense of identity. Their lives do not follow the patterns of the lives of the previous generations including those of their parents. They do however, negotiate these opportunities in the context of inequalities inherited from previous apartheid governance. Impoverished livelihoods, death of family members, gender inequities, poorly developed school systems and poor social amenities that they face in everyday life pose possible constraints to their envisioned futures. The study is based on the theorisation of self as a narrative, a story to be told. The self is understood as fragmented and changing as opposed to a single fixed entity. The narrative approach allows for the participants to tell their own stories bringing together past memories, anticipated futures as well as ongoing experiences they consider important. A total of 10 women took part in the study; 5 from Amangwane a rural community located in the Drakensburg area and 5 from the urban location of Chesterville. Their life stories were collected through in depth interviews in a wider context of narrative approach. Further, there was a follow up interview for each participant giving focus to central themes. A two phase analysis was used to examine the way the narratives were put together as well as paying attention to the content of the narratives in order to understand meaning attributed to events and experiences. The young women’s narratives were structured by an interaction of regressive and progressive plots. This is reflective of the challenges and difficulties that they face in their everyday lives in the South African context. The major regressive moments were financial difficulties, death of loved ones and motherhood. In the midst of these challenges, most stories were generally progressive towards the future. Some, however, were in the midst of uncertainties and some of the life stories were entrapped in difficult life circumstances that made it difficult to see success in the future. The key themes that came from the stories were poverty, place, family structure, gender, language and education. Poverty was experienced as very significant and real. It hampered everyday lives and the construction of future identities. The rural areas are the most hit by poverty especially female headed families. Fathers were constructed as possible solutions to economic problems because of their ability to access resources. Migration between urban and rural spaces is prominent in the rural women’s narratives. Urban areas presented improved life opportunities. Even so, urban space is fragmented and racially stratified. The urban young women’s narratives show a desire to succeed and move out of townships into suburbia. English is considered to be the economic language and its use provides young women with access to resources and a better life. Education is constructed as important by the young women as it gives them access to their desired future identities. However, schooling experience is characterised by lack of teachers, inadequately trained teachers and poor education standards. Gender inequities pose challenges which constrain the young women from reaching their full potential. The young women negotiate their lives in a context resonating with apartheid effects. They are faced with challenges and very difficult life circumstances. They however remain hopeful and are able to construct alternative future identities for themselves.