This study reports the findings of an investigation into young South Africans' knowledge and understanding of their national past derived from narrative accounts of South African history written by 27 university students who had recently completed the national school history curriculum. Analysis of these narratives indicates two fundamental differences in the way the history of South Africa is told, in terms of emphasis (the relative weight assigned to different periods and people) and of agency (who 'did' and who was 'done to'). These differences point to the continued importance of racial identity as a factor in the formation of a national historical consciousness in post-apartheid South Africa. The highly selective emplotment of South Africa's past by the students highlights the importance of sociocultural factors in the development of young people's historical consciousness, a conclusion that has implications for classroom pedagogy. These findings suggest that unless the historical understanding with which students come to the classroom is engaged and is complicated through evidence-based historical enquiry then neither the 'disciplinary' nor 'social justice' aims of the intended curriculum will be realized.