Nothing wrong with living high on the hog

2010-11-13 15:13

Is conspicuous consumption really something inimical to black culture and therefore to be frowned upon?

This subject was thrust into the public discourse by Zwelinzima Vavi’s ­comments on Kenny Kunene’s lavish 40th birthday party in ­Sandton.

Strange, but I don’t think so.

Throughout history and contemporary times, black people are known to love celebrations (and lavish ones at that!) and ostentatious living even when, in some instances, many ­could not afford it.

When a child is born, it is not ­uncommon for most black middle- or working-class parents to go ­shopping for expensive clothing for their offspring and throw lavish one- year birthday parties even when we can barely afford these.

This curse seems to follow most black children from puberty to adulthood when labels such as Levi’s, ­Jimmy Choo, Superga, Gucci and iPhone become not just aspirational items any more but a compelling albatross to many a black person’s definition of self-worth.

Celebrities and politicians alike do not seem to escape these shackles, with some having recently been publicly “outed” sporting fake Louis Vuitton apparel on television.

When we celebrate matters matrimonial, on average and depending on the culture or subculture, there will ­usually be at least three ceremonies ­including acceptance of the bridal families followed by two traditional ­ceremonies and a “white wedding” to boot.

In the case of Western cultures there will only be one, usually modest, wedding.

And that’s it.

When someone dies, after a typical township funeral we like to celebrate (“after tears” or “wie sien ons?”) with the most expensive alcoholic ­beverages.

Sometimes these events could be mistaken for fashion ­parades as guys and gals dressed to the nines saunter around with their newly acquired German gizmos.

Ordinary factory workers, dressed better and more expensively than their white bosses, are known to try to outdo each other as they throw “lavish” parties in trains every ­Fridays en route home. And Cosatu knows all but does nothing about it!

In all of the above, the common ­denominator seems to be that the bigger and more expensive, the ­better. All one has to do is substitute these ­venues with a rooftop exclusive club and you get Kunene’s shindig.

The truth is, irrespective of class or colour, everyone loves a good ­party or someone who knows how to throw one.

The only thing is, as ­articulated by departed American businessman Franklin Jones, ­nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbour’s noisy party than being there yourself.

This could probably explain the reason why RSVPs are foreign in our vernacular until, of course, you hop on stage and attempt to steal the limelight from Kunene.

On a more serious note, the ­problem does set in when some black ­entrepreneurs, in pursuit of an ostentatious lifestyle, choose to mistake revenue for profit or do not plan for lean years which, as the recent global financial meltdown has reminded us, are as much a part of business life as sushi is Japanese.

I don’t think we need to castigate those who can afford ostentatious lifestyles as long as they enjoy these on the back of hard work and an ­honest living.

Celebrated Soweto bootlegger Godfrey “The Godfather” Moloi loved his German cars, fine women, cigars, parties and coffins.

All these mostly in the middle of a Soweto that, at the time, didn’t even have ­electricity!

He obviously did not leave a legacy to emulate at business schools.

The point is, nothing is wrong with living the high life as long as you can afford it and you not make other ­people end up donating money for your indisposition or funeral, especially when they were never a part of your ostentatious lifestyle in the first place.

Unfortunately, this town is full of casualties of which Kunene surely must be aware.

» Khaas is a social commentator and president of the SA Small Business Forum. He writes here in his personal capacity

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