These are no fairy tales; only honest stories of real lives inside an unfair, two tier system that needs a drastic change. Their backgrounds still reflect the deep inequalities of the past, but woven into their lives is a common thread: the guts to achieve, regardless of the situation. Who will prosper, despite a broken education system and who will fail because of it, where half a nation’s youth are unemployed? And why? This is a moving, contrasting and conflicted study of epic challenges facing the “born free” children of Mandela.

Mahlatsi travels 15 miles from Soweto in his grandfather’s car, then by bus, to a good suburban school. His father tragically died, having been shot in a township dispute, back in 2004. His unemployed mother couldn’t afford his school fees or his chest burn treatment. Mahlatsi’s English teacher kindly paid for the latter. He wants to be a footballer or businessman, buy a tombstone for his father’s grave and help his family by becoming the breadwinner and father figure but he enjoys gambling and playing soccer in the Soweto streets. Mother disapproves, finding it hard to discipline him. Will he stay focused, and study enough to pass exams or will he follow his father into a life of gambling and crime?

Andile lives in rural KwaZulu-Natal, trudging miles on sun baked roads to a small primary school. Her mother seeks a job in Durban. She was abandoned by her father because he found her too costly. Consequently, being vulnerable and unprotected, she was attacked at night by an arsonist when living with her grandmother and little brother, and was forced to leave their mud hut. Traumatised, she now lives with a compassionate foster mother, washing clothes, cooking and collecting water. She is sensitive, young but intelligent. Will she go to an expensive, faraway high school or fall pregnant and drop out like many others? What will happen if she is reunited with Granny, recovering from multiple burns, whom she desperately misses? Her dream of being a doctor seems so remote, almost an impossible feat.

Phendulani is a soft spoken, Zulu head boy and boarder at old Durban High School, a school based on a traditional, English grammar school ethos. He’s from a pineapple farm where his mother and siblings live. His father was a civil engineer but died when Phendulani was nine. He admires him and wants to follow in his footsteps of civil engineering, sharing his passion for road building. A charitable trust pays his scholarship. He is a Springbok U18 rugby player and a hero figure at D.H.S. for his integrity, modesty, calmness and other leadership qualities, not least as rugby captain of the successful first team. The stresses of succeeding are enormous. Will he get a scholarship to attend university by being selected for Super 14’s Natal Sharks? How much further can he go in life, groomed now for supreme leadership?