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South African Teens Share Their Dreams And Their Slang: #15Girls

Zanele Themba (on the left with the pink backpack strap) admires American teens because they "know what they want and go for it." She's posing with classmates from the Sapphire Secondary School who participated in a model U.N. in Johannesburg.

Awe ouens, zikhiphani daar?

That's South African slang for "Hey guys, what's up?"

We recently had a chance to found out what's up with the teens of South Africa.

Some 500 high school students from across the country gathered in September for the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) Johannesburg Model United Nations Conference. They talked about everything from climate change to their dreams for the future. Along the way, they shared a bit of their slang.

To today's generation of South African teens, apartheid — which ended in 1994 — is something they read about in history books.

But it's also very much a part of their DNA. "We're conscious of our past," says Tumi Makhafola from the Pretoria High School for Girls. "Our belief in justice for all is stronger."

Zanele Themba of Sapphire Secondary School feels her generation has many opportunities whereas her parents and their contemporaries were "not quite free to dream" pre-1994.

It also helps that "we are a loving and caring people," says Loxten Green of the National School of the Arts. But issues like hunger, drug abuse and teen pregnancy continue to challenge many young South Africans.

Phemelo Ndlovu, a student at Orlando West High, points out that adults don't always appreciate the difficulty of what the younger generation is facing. "Some people say we've lost respect [for the older generation]. It's arguable. But the truth is the world has changed drastically. We're exposed to many more dangers but have little guidance," he says.

The technology available today, however, offers them the tools to turn some of these problems around. "As teens we can also start using social media to engage and discuss serious stuff," Ndlovu adds. "It's up to us to drive change."

Tlogela/jinda snaai seo. (Leave that fool alone.)

Social media provides new outlets, but there's a danger in relying too much on such a fleeting method of expression, Green says. He knows that his peers live on the likes of Twitter and Instagram but can't figure why.

"Everyone was tweeting #bringbackourgirls everyday! Remember that? Where is it now? There's a new trend every month, I don't keep track," he says. "What's the point?"

Many of these trends are coming from outside of South Africa. Teens say Beyonce Knowles and Kim Kardashian are some of the top-trending celebrities because of the overwhelming influence of the U.S. media.

Cava lo-mntwana, yi-flame! (Look at her, she's gorgeous!)

Not that South Africa's teens mind seeing American styles. Themba says South African teens take their fashion cues from music videos and the Internet: high-waisted jeans, black leather caps, Air Jordan sneakers and tank tops. When it comes to tunes, hip-hop and house music rule. (Local artists that get these teens dancing include AKA, Black Coffee, Cassper Nyovest, Desmond & the Tutu, Lulo Cafe, Spoek Mathambo, D'banj and 2Face.)

Themba thinks American teens "know what they want and go for it," a trait she commends. Green nods, but then offers his perception of American teens. "I think they are obese." Why? "Junk food is too common there."

Ha re pande cheese. (Let's hustle some money.)

Devedine Armstrong, from Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, 30 miles south of Johannesburg, identifies poverty and inequality as the biggest problems facing South Africa — issues that stem from the nation's apartheid past.

That's why she plans to become a human rights lawyer. "We need radical change in South Africa, but that's not easy to do. What we could do is, as individuals, empower others in whatever little way," Armstrong says. "I would like to help empower other people, especially girls and women and NGOs, reach their dreams the same way that Mama Oprah has empowered me."

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Being a 15-year-old girl can be tough no matter where you live. Tell us: What was the hardest thing about being 15? Post a photo of yourself as a teen with your answer on Twitter or Instagram, and tag your post with #15Girls and @NPR. More details here.

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