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Book launch on seminal study as ‘Mandela’s children’ come of age

- Wits University

The Birth to Thirty (Bt30) study in Soweto is Africa’s largest and longest-running birth cohort study.

Birth to Thirty by Professor Linda RichterIt tracks the lives of some 3 000 people born in South Africa in the early 1990s and known affectionately as ‘Mandela’s Children’. These children are now 32-years-old.

Wits Professor Linda Richter in the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development is a co-founder of the Bt30 study.

First launch:

Richter launches her book, Birth to Thirty: A Study as Ambitious as the Country We Wanted to Create at a closed academic event at the Origins Centre on Friday 19 August.

However, this launch will also be livestreamed at 14:00 on the CoE Human Development YouTube page here:

Second launch:

A second launch, exclusively for study participants, takes place in Jabulani, Soweto, on Saturday 20 August 2022 from 12:00-14:00.

Although attendance is restricted to study participants, anyone can register to attend online here:

The public can also watch livestreams of the Jabulani launch as follows:

A research webinar series, which focuses on key findings of the cohort study, follows in September.

The people, their stories, and those who care

In the book, Richter weaves together the stories, the people, and the science that make up Bt30. She expertly positions the personal contributions from participants and staff with key scientific findings and trends from the data, within their historical and contemporary context.

“I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to lead and contribute to Bt30. It is one of the big achievements of my career,” says Richter. “My most cherished dream would come true if one our students, with even bigger dreams, secured a large grant to continue to follow-up the cohort and their children – and even, their children’s children. We have so many more research questions that need answering as these young adults progress to older ages.”

The participants, to whom the book is dedicated, completed more than 22 rounds of data collection. They answered countless questions, they gave blood and urine samples, and were repeatedly measured and scanned. Their mothers participated, both as caregivers and individuals in their own right. Some fathers, teachers and school principals also completed questionnaires.

“What to say at the end of the book? I find myself resisting drawing conclusions about the lives of ‘Mandela’s children’, who are 32-years-old this year. Most have the longer part of their lives ahead of them. A lot could still happen, and the life of each one could change substantially,” says Richter.

Bt30 staff, some of whom have been employed by the project from its beginning, have been the mainstay of the study. They supported and encouraged mothers and their children to ensure that we retained their participation for as long as possible. These staff members contributed to questionnaire development and to the interpretation of findings. They gave each other courage when fieldwork was dangerous, and they helped participants and their families when no one else would.

The book will be available through Amazon and Takealot and proceeds will fund postgraduate students working with longitudinal data.

For more information about the launches or book, please email