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Fame comes at a staggering price for Izikhothane youths – designer clothes, costly accessories and expensive alcohol.
But it’s not just the consumption of these expensive items that earns status or popularity.
In parks and other public spaces before expectant and excited crowds, these teens destroy expensive goods to seal their standing in a trend that has found a growing popularity among youths in SA townships.
Izikhothane, the Zulu word for “those who lick”, have gained an infamous reputation for their acts of waste – they tear up or burn wads of cash, designer clothes and shoes, and recklessly slosh expensive alcohol on the ground.
Clinical psychologist Simphiwe Sinkoyi, from Joburg, says the Izikhothane bill themselves as street performers, “but their art consists of little more than branded clothing and face-offs with rival crews who compete over who has more money”.
He says ukukhothana is a money-conscious SA version of the diss battles in the US, but where the American jokes would begin with, “Yo mama is so…”, these kids start theirs with “I’m so rich I can…”
“They then proceed to demonstrate how much money they have by engaging in wasteful behaviour.”
According to Sinkoyi, this fad started in smaller black communities of Gauteng’s East Rand and quickly filtered into Soweto.
But it’s a phenomenon that’s “not entirely new in the townships and in black pop culture”, says Lebo Motshegoa, director of Foshizi, a company that specialises in market research into the black consumer market.
“In my time, almost 14 years ago, if you had enough money, you’d buy Carvela or Rossi Moda shoes. They made a statement that you were now living the life,” says Motshegoa.
“Fast track two decades later and it’s the same thing but with a twist. Every generation wants to be different. Now, it’s about extreme waste. Back then it was good enough to be seen wearing the right label.
“These days, you diss your opponent, who’s also wearing something expensive, and dare each other to set alight a R1 000 T-shirt. Setting that shirt alight is the same thing as burning R1 000.”
Sinkoyi says he is aware of a recent incident where “a boy from Pimville bought a bucket of KFC chicken, threw it on the floor and then stomped on the chicken pieces using his R2 000 pair of loafers to grind the white meat into the ground before setting the food alight – and then the shoes.”
Motshegoa reduces the attitude of Izikhothane to this: “I have more where this came from.”
He added that it’s about going to the park and dressing up in expensive clothes. It’s about taking Ultramel custard and expensive whisky or Cognac to throw around. Many Izikhothane will also have pairs of shoes in different colours to show that they have more than one pair.
Afterwards, when the dissing battle is over, they perform a “gloating dance”.
Many of these youths don’t come from affluent backgrounds, says Motshegoa.
“Their parents often don’t have the best of jobs and aren’t rich. They’re factory workers or work at the supermarkets.”
Says Sinkoyi: “The question remains, though, why do it at all? By their own admission, they aren’t as moneyed as they pretend to be. Why then spend the little cash they do receive on clothing which in some cases will end up as tattered rags? The boys provide no answers.”
Sinkoyi says that, in a typically teenage manner, Izikhothane have paid no thought to the psychology behind the trend.
“It’s tempting to think of Izikhothane as some kind of nihilistic reaction to a rampantly consumerist culture, a negation of the power that ‘stuff’ has over us.
“But really it comes off as an overexaggerated homage to consumerism – the desperate quest for individualism that ties its success to brand names and price tags.”
It gives these young people their moment in the spotlight.
“It is a search for self-value, and not notoriety. When all the romanticism has been sucked out of the ghetto, when history’s lessons have stripped you of what should be inherent self-respect, dignity is inferred. Izikhothane will borrow Armani’s name and Diesel’s reputation until they can make their own.”
“These kids don’t think about their future. They look at their popularity. And parents are pressured into it and give in to their children.
“It’s also a question of pride on the parents’ side where they don’t want to look as if they cannot provide for their child.”
Motshegoa says that quite recently girls have joined in.
Kefilwe*, 16, Mpho*, 18 and Thandi*, 17, were unapologetic for being a part of this fad and proudly admitted being Izikhothane.
They looked the part, striding confidently across Thokoza Park during a night of revelry. They wore pricey labels worth thousands of rands – such as Carvela, Adidas, Guess and Nike – and boasted shiny gold teeth and Krugerrand earrings.
“I do it for the fame,” said Kefilwe.
“Money is not a problem. Both my parents are working and have good jobs. Yes, we burn clothes, we brag and we do the talk of the Italian with our real Carvelas. It’s to show that money is not a problem, that it’s just to spend.”
And what’s with the gold teeth, I asked?
They laughed. “It’s to show uhleka ngamalini (how much are you smiling with?). Without the gold teeth, you’re cheap.
“We’re using Listerine to clean the gold and we can afford to go to the dentist.”
Kefilwe admitted her mother was aware of the trend and opposed it.
“But she doesn’t know I burn the clothes. She gives me an allowance of R5 000, she doesn’t know what’s in my closet or where the money all goes,” said Kefilwe.
“Izikhothane is a big thing – if you’re not a part of it, then you’re nothing.”
Mpho chimed in: “It’s just a trend and we show off just like other trends.
“The old people say that what we’re doing is devil worshipping. It’s not that. Being Izikhothane, people respect you, and there’s all that attraction and attention.”
Kefilwe agreed: “We have to spend in order to impress. I’m famous, many people know me.”
Thandi said she felt no guilt for what they did, calling it a “celebration of life”.
“Besides, we’re meant to spend our parents’ money,” Kefilwe added.
“They are working for us,” said Mpho.
However, the three teens insisted that being Izikhothane was just a youthful phase for them.
“We’re all in matric and we do have a future,” said Thandi.
“We’re not going to be Izikhothane for our whole life. After high school, we’ll grow up, we’ll leave all this childishness behind.”
Said Kefilwe: “We’ll be done with it. This is futureless, but we do it now for the fame and just to enjoy life. It makes sense.” .
Mpho adds: “Yeah, for us it’s like I’ve been there, done that.”
But there are those youths who have chosen “not to fall into the trap” of this trend.
Bafana*, 17, believed that teens like Kefilwe’s group were “doing a foolish thing”.
“They’re just wasting their parents’ money. What I’d like them to do is put their expensive clothes in a box and donate it to charity, and not burn them. Why don’t they rather do a game of donation, instead of dancing, bragging and burning?” said Bafana.
Mzwandile*, 17, was of the same opinion. “It’s disturbing. I know my friends do it not only for fame and to fit in, but to show that they are alive. And you get kids who are nine years old to people in their 20s doing this.”
Financial reasons and his firm belief in his future, said Mzwandile, had stopped him from following the trend.
“When I ask my friends why they do it, they can’t really give me their reasons. They’re just trying to be a part of something they don’t know. They wear their expensive clothes, and others who can’t afford will buy fong kong (obviously fake) stuff just to fit in.
“I look at the new generation and I think we are going down the drain. Two years ago, it was all about music and dance. Lately, it’s about the swag, which doesn’t allow us to be united.”
Mzwandile believes these activities separate the youth. “What about the generation after us? They’re going to grow up thinking this is what they have to do.”
“I really don’t think there’s any positive thing about this. Kids are getting on drugs and 13-year-olds are drinking alcohol.
“And if they cannot afford it, they’ll turn to crime to feed their swag and their lifestyle… There is no future in being Izikhothane. It will damage your future.”
Motshegoa said that it was a fad that wouldn’t last because it was not sustainable.
“It requires far too much of people.”
* Real names not used