Photographer Mongezi Mcelu, also known as Bambatha Jones, seeks to explore and question the concept of ‘Born Frees’ through his photo essay titled A Misguided Youth. Focusing specifically on the identities of black attendees of the prominent University of Cape Town born in 1994 and thereafter, Mongezi examines his subject’s socio-economical positions to determine how that affects their educational experiences and how they manage money in general.
Inspired by a series of conversations that surrounded the issue of the fallen statue of Cecil Rhodes during a recent visit to Cape Town; Mongezi acquainted himself with students at the university and asked them about their experiences in and around campus. Accepting a variation of answers, he was led to the conclusion that many students are studying and living like mice whilst disappointed by the initial allure of ample opportunities, resources and the promise of employment.
Mongezi aims to reflect the reality of many born frees, which is that they are born into families and communities that are usually poor and/or not savvy with money, that they are beneficiaries of a struggle that multiple generations of their families faced then fought against, and that they are now left with the unequivocal responsibility to succeed. For these people featured in the photo essay and many like them, education is a survival strategy; however, fees for tertiary institutions leave the majority of black students steeped in debt and often times feeling discouraged. Thus Mongezi uses a red light to emphasis debt and the overwhelming sense of guilt that they are failing themselves and their forebears.
Ultimately it is Mongezi’s desire to encourage his peers to work hard and acquire information and skills effectively, to become a part of a new generation of free thinkers and creators of opportunities with relying too heavily on a qualification.