During his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced a fictional character named Tintswalo, who was born in 1994, at the dawn of democracy. The President shared how Tintswalo benefited from government policies and assistance at every step of her journey, which helped her lift herself out of poverty. 

However, the question remains: is President Cyril’s Tintswalo a product of mere luck?

There are some truths to Ramaphosa’s bragging. Tintswalo’s life in a democratic era meant access to better healthcare, education, and social services, thanks to governmental efforts to combat poverty and inequality. Compared to the apartheid era, there have been significant improvements, with more South Africans accessing essential services like electricity and water.

However, Tintswalo’s reality is marked by steep challenges. South Africa remains one of the most unequal nations on earth, plagued by high unemployment and widespread poverty. Her generation contends with a 70% unemployment risk and a 50% likelihood of living below the poverty line. Critics like DA leader John Steenhuisen argue that the ANC’s unfulfilled promises have jeopardised her future.

These issues are exacerbated by state capture, corruption, and economic stagnation, which have undermined trust in institutions and impeded access to basic needs.

Yet, Tintswalo’s generation enjoys freedoms unknown during apartheid—voting rights, freedom of speech, and access to information. These empower her to participate in shaping South Africa’s future and to hold leaders accountable.

So, how do we fix this for all the real Tintswalos out there? We need substantial investment in education, healthcare, and economic development, alongside a commitment to governance that fulfils its promises and tackles the root causes of inequality.

Tintswalo’s story forms the basis of a new series of the current affairs show The Big Debate, starting this month. Each episode will examine South Africa’s thirty years of democracy – its successes and shortcomings. /explain/ is partnered with The Big Debate to cover the series as it unpacks these issues. Stay tuned for more.