No matter how healthy our bank balances are, and how much money we save and invest, we would not be seen as successful unless we get into car loans or debt and drive around in German, Italian or Japanese cars at home, says the writer. Picture: Supplied
Johannesburg - I remember vividly. Five years ago as an intern, every time I went home, I would be asked the same question by neighbours, the lady down the street and my former teachers: “When are you buying a car, Kabelo, because you are now working?”

One of our neighbours even had the audacity to take the conversation further: “It looks like you kids just go to university for nothing, you can’t even afford a mere car. Yoh! You varsity graduates are no different from children who didn’t go to school.”

I was stunned, and for someone like me who is always ready to take on a debate and reason, I never felt so defeated in my life.

Fast-forward to 2018, it has been four months without a car. I literally visit my home village, Pankop, every second week without fail, and I use a taxi more often now that I don’t have a car.

I didn’t think I would still have to answer to my neighbours about the ins and outs, ups and downs of my life. But I was wrong. I didn’t see the need to explain myself five years ago, and I still don’t see the need to do so even now.

However, the culture of embracing the affordability of debt as success is fast becoming a worrying factor. I thought this would change at some point.

Last month I went home for a visit, using a taxi of course. I met a guy who I went to school with, and he works as one of the queue marshals at our local taxi ranks. Without greeting me, his opening remarks were: “Eh, le wele Kabelo (the ‘mighty’ have fallen), you are catching a taxi now. Where is your car?”

I rolled my eyes, then looked him in the eye and said nothing. I was really tempted to say something very nasty, but I realised that he was not worth my time. I thought it was over.

Then came Saturday morning, I made my way to buy a copy of a newspaper, and there I met one of the villagers who addressed me as Maki’s child (Maki being the affectionate name they call my mom).

The woman said: “How are you, and where is your car? Oh shame. Are car instalments showing you flames?”

I was stunned. I know that a child is raised by a community, which applies literally in my case. But I realised that the child’s morale and goodwill are also killed by the very same village that raised him.

I got home and took a deep breath. I recalled all the times where I would give the very same people lifts in my car. I also remembered one of the visits I made to a local school to give motivation to the pupils, and ended up hearing the teacher say: “Did you see the car Kabelo is driving? One day you too will be driving such a car if you listen in class and focus.”

At that point, I wanted to interject and say: “Your teacher is encouraging you to get into debt. That car is owned by the bank, and not me. The only thing it shows, black child, is the fact that I am allowed such credit (debt) by the bank.”

Kabelo Chabalalala

It is a devastating state of affairs. No matter how healthy our bank balances are (I am not saying they are), and how much money we save and invest, we would not be seen as successful unless we get into car loans or debt and drive around in German, Italian or Japanese cars at home.

I guess the America actor, producer, rapper, comedian and songwriter Will Smith was right when he said: “Too many people spend money they don’t have, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”

Now in 2018, I think it is a tragedy for people back home, at schools, churches and in the neighbourhood to start measuring our success or lack thereof by materialistic things, such as “owning” cars, drinking expensive booze and wearing high-priced clothes.

That is really backwards, and it teaches the young ones to value the wrong things in life.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder and chairperson of the Young Men Movement (YMM). Email, [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.