The black South African youth subculture known as Izikhothane or Skhothane has apparently been kicking around for a few years, and on the internet for a few less. But this new short documentary makes our own obsession with designer labels look comparatively healthy.
For the uninitiated (myself included,) the recruitment process appears to differ slightly from that of your average youth gang. The only requirements? You must have a willingness to drop money you don’t even have on expensive designer clothing. And you must be equally willing to then destroy it in public displays of one-upmanship with rival gangs. The word “izikhothane” means “bragging,” and rather than criminal records or ownership of township territory, the leading Izikhothane is the one that’s the most arrogant.
Vocativ recently went to Soweto in Johannesburg to hang around some Izikhothane as they prepared for a weekend showdown in the township. “To be Izikhothane you have to be like us,” one of the kids says. “Buy expensive clothes, shoes, booze, fame, girls, driving, spending… And when you’re dressed in Italian clothing it shows that you’re smart.” No Alexander Wang, then? Another adds, “I can’t be caught wearing sneakers and jeans. That would be the joke of the year if I did that.” They also accessorize the clothing with expensive booze and food. (Custard fights feature heavily throughout the video.)
The gangs’ existence gets to a difficult aspect of post-apartheid life in South Africa. With black youths generally belonging to either the newly-strong black middle class or the working one obsessed with appearing well off, the gap between rich and poor is not only wider but more fiercely competitive than ever. And it’s not just about the financial gap either. As part of the “free generation” the kids have a very different attitude towards burning cash (literally) than their parents. “Being born free means we can shop where we want and the country is no longer under oppression,” they tell the cameras. “We can express our views without being imprisoned.”
The parents, expectedly, are not overly down with their sons’ newfound hobbies. “They tear up their clothes and money, forgetting that we are poor and struggle for money.” Strangely, though, sometimes it’s the parents who finance it, happy at least that their kids aren’t caught up in a gang that’s more dangerous physically.
The socioeconomic side might be complex, but on the face it still seems less strange than B Stylers. Watch the video — unless you have a strong aversion to custard — below.
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