Black yuppies facing huge challenges

By Anna Cox Time of article published Jun 27, 2006

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Thami, 30,* is a young, upwardly mobile, black alcoholic. He is the son of high-profile, affluent parents who were actively involved in the anti-apartheid struggle.

His father was imprisoned on Robben Island for five years. When he was released, he went into exile to the US, where Thami was born.

Besides being moved from country to country and feeling he had no real roots, Thami spent all his life in the shadows of his affluent, successful, celebrity parents.

Although he is now a successful businessman, he turned to alcohol to help him deal with the stress of living up to his parents' expectations.

Thami is typical of yuppies who are struggling against the pressures of being black, young and upwardly mobile.

So says Dan Wolf, a psychologist who has seen an increase in the number of people he counsels.

Wolf has started a new alternative treatment to in-patient treatment for busy executives, known as First Step where people can go to therapy after hours and over weekends to fit in with their busy schedules.

"We are dealing with highly functional, well-educated men who have a pathological relationship with substances.

"We have increasingly seen the emergence of reliance on drugs and alcohol among people whose parents, against all odds, have given their children everything in life and who now have high expectations of them.

"With black economic empowerment, the doors are swinging open at all levels and some are scared of the demands and responsibilities and don't feel capable of achieving of what their parents have.

"Black tradition demands that the eldest son has to achieve and take over," he explained.

"I lived in a predominantly white environment and viewed myself as a black American."

The family lived in the US for eight years.

His mother also studied further, becoming a doctor.

"We then moved to the UK and Greece and finally back to Johannesburg, our supposed roots.

"I knew nothing of South African culture and could not relate to black society.

"I longed to return to the US, which I still considered home, so after matric, I went to university in Atlanta which is a historically black institution."

That was where Thami's drinking began.

After getting a degree in finance, he returned home in 1994 eager to start life afresh.

Again he was disappointed at not fitting in because of his Rasta, dreadlocked image.

When his family moved to the US, Thami got an MBA and became a professional, sought-after international banker.

He eventually decided to conform to his parents' lifestyle after being pressured by them to do so, cut his hair and got a job.

He eventually decided to leave the corporate environment and start his own business, but despite the change, his drinking didn't stop.

It got so bad that his new wife threatened to leave, saying he was out of control.

"That is why I decided to come to this rehabilitation programme," Thami said.

Phumi's* world was disrupted not by politics, but by money.

He had a very successful father who, in spite of apartheid, made a lot of money in retail.

"I attended an exclusive white school and was one of the few black children there in those days. But I soon realised that my self-made father was so determined that I take advantage of all he was offering me, and that, as his eldest son, I would follow in his footsteps, that he became not only cruel but sadistic as well," he said.

His first experiment with alcohol started with his friends when he was 10 years old. He arrived home drunk.

"My father took a sjambok to me and beat me for hours until I was bleeding. It was that day that my resentment against him started. I still have scars on my back.

"It did not stop there. After that, every time I did something naughty, he would beat me," Phumi said.

Much more recently, his drinking and partying escalated to such an extent that his fiancée threatened to leave him.

He was also arrested by the Johannesburg metro police a few weeks ago and locked up for a night.

"That was my wake-up call and that is why I decided to come ... for help.

"All the resentment about my father has now come out. I am going to confront him about this one day but I am not ready yet," he said.

First Step can be contacted on 011 884 4060 or 011 883 5668.

* Not their real names.

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