Too many rights? Reproductive freedom in post-apartheid South Africa

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University of Cape Town

In this article, I explore contestations over the legislation and enactment of reproductive rights in South Africa. I argue that the public disapprobation surrounding teenage pregnancy relates, in complex ways, to broader suspicions about moral atavism among the polity. This is the sense that the democratic transition has dismantled established modes of social regulation, resulting in a rupture in the social fabric.i This article explores two elements of this idea: Firstly, that the legislation of democratic freedoms has licensed sexual promiscuity among youth. Secondly, that this sexual promiscuity is related to other forms of profligate consumption among ‘Born Frees’. I contrast claims about the social damage wrought by the empowerment of women in the post- apartheid era, with the experiential accounts of young women themselves. I compare statements made by President Jacob Zuma about teenage pregnancy, with the ideas and experiences of young South Africans, and their older relatives. I explore how disputes over reproductive agency and sexual freedom have been refracted through different experiential prisms, coloured by gender and generation. I describe the political utility of calls for the greater regulation of young women’s sexual and reproductive behaviours. Key claims arose from three years of primary research within the Mzantsi Wakho study, a longitudinal study which focuses on the health experiences of young people, caregivers, health workers and social service providers, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.