Meet the Izikhothane’s - A New Group of Young South Africans Redefining Materialism.
“Izikhothane” is a Zulu word meaning “to lick”, but it has now become street slang for “bragging”. It has its roots in the early days of the movement, which first emerged around 2010, when “izis” would deliberately spill packets of custard, considered a treat by many low income black South Africans, and then ostentatiously lick it off their hands and clothes. They quickly graduated from custard to Johnnie Walker Blue Label and even Moët & Chandon, which they spill rather than drink, as onlookers urge them on.
Such scenes of decadence have outraged some older South Africans. The mayor of Ekurhuleni, an area outside Johannesburg, recently denounced the movement as “abhorrent”.
The izikhothanes are from the generation known as “born frees” – black youths who came into the world after the end of apartheid. Others who cannot afford to imitate them invite them to their parties because of the kudos they bring.
“We’re the Italians,” Phumi Ntshangase, 20, said, brandishing a tattoo on his left arm where the letters FBI (Full Blooded Italians, because of their penchant for Italian designer labels) were arranged like a designer label; other groups have names such as the Vintages, after expensive alcohol, and the Overspenders.
Competition between them is fierce but not violent. At one recent altercation, the biggest insult seemed to be, “Your T-shirt is faded. Go away with your faded T-shirt – you should not be here.”
It is often parents who finance the izikhothane lifestyle. As Ntshangase swigged beer with some of his friends, his mother passed by. She came over and pressed a new smartphone into his hand. Showing off her own gold tooth, she said proudly, “He loves this lifestyle. He feels he is someone, and that pleases me. We – our generation – never had that feeling. It is good to see him happy.”
“Democracy has gone to their heads,” says Mokone, who shows tourists around the landmarks of Soweto’s apartheid-era struggle. “They think it means you have the right to do anything you want. Many of these kids are at high school, and this movement just shows contempt for the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made.”
His friend Mpho Gesh, a 21-year-old wearing a pink shirt, yellow slacks and matching narrow shiny shoes, explained there was more to the phenomenon than showing off: “Clothes here in the township are how people express themselves. If you can’t afford clothes, you can’t join… All the girls love us and want to roll with us, but we only want those who can also afford the lifestyle.”
The izikhothanes’ role model is the playboy businessman Kenny Kunene, known as the Sushi King because of stories of him eating sushi off the bodies of near-naked models during wild nightclub bashes. At his birthday party a few months ago, attended by many izikhothane groups, Kunene encouraged the youths always to go for the best, mentioning that his outfit, including accessories, had cost 113,000 rand (£8,400) – a fortune in South Africa, now officially the most unequal country in the world.
Kunene recently denounced the practice of burning clothes and tearing up banknotes, but defended the izikhothanes for having the confidence to dress and behave like no one “expects poor blacks” to. He pointed out that these young people do not fight in gangs or take drugs, and encouraged them to aim high, getting an education to go with their flashy lifestyle.
Jakes Mjeke, an izikhothane with bleached hair, agrees. “We stay away from crime, we avoid fights, we don’t do drugs, we spend most of our time in the salon, upgrading ourselves,” he says. “It is all about status.”
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