Skhothane nation: The champagne campaign

2014-07-15 06:00

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Young South Africans are washing their hands with champagne in clubs and showering in Lays chips on the street. Milisuthando Bongela says we should not be surprised

In the very popular Turn Up culture of today, a relatively novel millennial concern, the natural tendency for young people to indulge in fashion, music, dance, alcohol and sex, is turned up to elite levels of consumption where young “bitches” and “niggas”, as they call themselves, have embarked on a modern form of Afro-hedonism, a lifestyle ambition where poppin’ (very expensive) bottles, ass-dunking, looking good and sharing it all on Instagram is what the Champagne Campaign lifestyle is about.

Seeing a very pretty girl with long braids and a short dress drinking Moët from the bottle and dancing provocatively for me, a stranger with a camera at the Cocoon Lounge, was exhilarating for my Pongrácz- drinking self, but very commonplace, according to my 24-year-old assistant. “That’s old news,” she says.

These days, 21-year-olds are taking Champagne showers in the clubs and, encouraged by the need to outshine one another, are filling tables with bottles and washing their hands in it, using ice buckets as basins.

Two years ago, the nation was outraged after the 3rd Degree exposé of the Izikhothane culture of neodandyism, where expensive clothing, pageantry, and drinking and spilling whisky and Ultra Mel custard were some of the cultural rituals.

The culture of indulging in fashion and expensive alcohol consumption and showing off is neither new in South Africa, nor did it come with Izikhotane.

The style of wearing different-coloured shoes of the same style to indicate that one has two pairs of that shoe has been around since the 80s, when amaPantsula used to do that.

The culture of washing hands with whisky has its roots in the funerals of the 90s, while wasting Ultra Mel or yogurt, things that are seen as luxuries or special items in township households, was normal in the heyday of aboMshoza.

The former Model C kids are high on Champagne and the township kids are high on Johnnie Walker.

The backgrounds are different, but it seems they have all ended up in the same boozy head space of extreme apathy.

A friend says she walked past a group of youths in Spruitview taking a Lays shower. They were holding up big packets of Lays chips and pouring the contents on themselves, leaving uneaten chips all over the street.

When she asked why they were doing this, they told her “sidlis’ingwenya, my sister”. They were feeding the crocodile that appears as the logo on their Lacoste T-shirts. This is no different to the Champagne hand-washing.

What is this indicative of beyond the obvious aspirations to luxury items of the elite? Hip-hop music videos and a similar kind of indulgence from African-American rappers is an influence.

But rappers have the millions they rap about to spend on booze and cars. Why is it that unhappy, largely unemployed millennials have adopted a culture that is the furthest thing from their reality?

While it is influenced by the “we started from the bottom, now we are here” culture of black males hustling and overcoming economic adversities to provide for their families in the US or the South Africa of the late 90s and early noughties, where the benefactors of BEE and employment equity were birthing the diamond class among black South Africans,?these millennials do not know the kind of struggle their parents knew.

They started at the bottom and leapt to the top in lifestyle practice, but not in reality. Their bank accounts don’t match their ambitions.

Their ambitions are the result of the mindless capitalist ideal of material wealth at any cost. We should not be shocked that this is the result of the Free World neoliberal economy that South Africa adopted after 1994, where a broken people were not yet healed, where black masculinities were not yet mended before the meat of Americanism was dangled in front of them.

These are the kids who grew up in a society that Biko foresaw where black people did not adopt a mentality of consciousness to their edification, the society “driven to chaos by irresponsible people from Coca-Cola and hamburger-cultural backgrounds”.

One has to ask why white kids are not doing this.

While freedom to express and to be should belong to everyone, their freedom was not won. It was handed to them in an orderly manner that did not dislocate the flow of capital.

Little was done to address the psychological effects of township existence and the self-loathing caused by a legislated inferiority complex.

We should know this is happening in another form to the children of emancipated blacks who were simply let out of their cages with no healing in the US. These are the children who are resting on the laurels of capital.

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