Nightly News   |  July 18, 2012

‘Born Free’ generation carves new path in South Africa

On Wednesday, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 94th birthday, another remarkable accomplishment after enduring so much in the name of freedom. Two decades after the end of apartheid in South Africa the divide between the rich and poor is still strikingly visible, but today’s young adults have great hopes for the future. NBC’s Ron Allen reports.

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>> walk. it is another milestone for a man who remains a powerful influence over his country. especially the young people there. many of them now thriving, thanks to the freedom he fought so hard to win. our report tonight from nbc's ron allen .

>> reporter: they're called the born-free generation. south africans , 18 or younger. born since the historic 1994 elections that made nelson mandela president and put south africa on a new path after decades of apartheid. you all know mandela. what do you think of him?

>> i think if it wasn't for him, we would not be here. my grandmother doesn't know how to write.

>> reporter: this year as the born free become adults, they're thinking more about mandela's dream of a rainbow nation with opportunity for all really exists.

>> as much as things have changed, a lot of things haven't changed.

>> there is still a lot of racial tension between people.

>> i'm more optimistic.

>> reporter: they attend one of the country's most respected universities. under apartheid, he would have been classified as black. alex, mixed race . michael, white.

>> reporter: what is it like being a white south african these days?

>> it has a few challenges.

>> reporter: challenges like black affirmative action programs that can limit opportunities for whites. some 20 years later, south africa is a complicated society where race still determines a lot about who gets what and how people live and work. for the most part, black south africans control the country's government and politics while white south africans control the business and wealth. it is a divide that is strikingly visible with suburban neighborhoods and shopping malls almost exclusively white. while the majority of blacks still live in the poor parts of town. decent housing, good schools and jobs are rare. but at this museum, once a notorious political prison, many of these students said they believe history won't hold them back.

>> the world is my stage.