Izikhothane, which loosely translates to ‘brag it’, is a South African subculture of youths who dress themselves in designer clothes they can barely afford. They arrive in minivans at public spots and participate in elaborate dance-offs against rival gangs. During these performances, they indulge in burning wads of cash, destroying their clothes and spilling expensive food and alcohol on the streets. Why, you ask? To show off, obviously.
“To be Izikhothane, you have to be like us. Buy expensive clothes, booze, fame, girls, driving, spending. And when you are dressed in Italian clothing it shows that you’re smart,” said one gang member. In a nation where almost 50 percent of youths are unemployed, this sort of blatantly extravagant act is rather surprising. Most of the Izikhothane are funded by their working class parents with modest incomes.
There’s also a huge generation gap between these youths and their parents. Most of the Izikhothane belong to a generation that grew up after the end of white minority rule, unlike their parents. According to one kid, “Being born free means we can shop where we want and the country is no longer under oppression. We can express our views without being imprisoned.” Some use the extravagance as a means to escape their poverty, and for others it is just a culture of bling.
Although all the Izikhothane follow the same trend, each of them seem to have a different reason for doing it. For She-Ra, a well-known Izikhothane, it’s all about showing off. “People must see that when you walk out you are worth thousands,” he said. “I can’t be caught wearing sneakers and jeans. That would be the joke of the year. People admire me. Everywhere I go, people scream, ‘She-Ra! She-Ra!’ I love dressing up in expensive clothes so that’s why people know I’m Izikhothane.”
But for Nashaan Smith, Izikhothane is all about making himself happy. “We don’t do it for other people. We do it for ourselves,” he said. “It’s our fashion, and we like our fashion. So me, as an individual, I make a plan.” Nashaan is one of the few youths who don’t depend on their parents to fund their expensive hobby. “I can’t tell anyone how I get the money, because it’s my secret,” he admitted.
Most parents are actually glad that their kids haven’t joined any criminal gangs, so they don’t mind sparing some cash. But some of them just don’t understand the weird behavior. “They tear up their clothes and money, forgetting that we are poor and struggle for money. What the hell is this Izikhothane business?” asked one concerned mother.
“I honestly don’t feel good about Izikhothane because it’s a drastic change from how we grew up,” said another parent. “Times have changed. We are free now and there is no oppressor. nd that is why the kids misbehave.”
Izikhothane, also known as Skhotane, is prevalent in several townships in cities like Johannesburg. The Soweto Township in the south and Diepsloot township in the north are believed to be the birthplace of the youth culture. The gang members are typically aged between 12 and 25, and mainly belong to the black middle class community. They are non-violent; their only quirk is going to extreme lengths to show who is the wealthiest. Things get so crazy sometimes that they even end up breaking their cell phones in public. The more expensive the item destroyed, the more they are revered among peers.
Two years ago, Izikhothane gained nationwide attention after the phenomenon was covered widely by the media. One South African TV station covered the story of a young Izikhothane who committed suicide due to peer pressure to keep spending money. The culture was then heavily criticized, with the police warning youths that burning money is a criminal offence. Since then, gang members have kept a low profile, but they do organize meetings through the Facebook and Twitter.
There are ongoing debates between the supporters and critics of the culture. Some people think it’s harmless, while others are very concerned about these individuals. 23-year-old Izikhothane Muzi Kingpin wrote: “People don’t like us because they’re jealous of our wealth. I’m tired of hearing the same arguments saying we’re not being responsible by burning money. Personally, I don’t spend my parents’ money. If I want to destroy banknotes, who can stop me? Izikhothane also turns young people away from violence.”
Muzi added that he doesn’t want to practice the culture for ever; he plans to stop blowing money in two years and start a family.
Cedrain Wambe, a student from Cameroon who studied Izikhothane, has a different story to tell. He said that the culture started out with great promise – as a way to keep youths away from violence. “The majority of Izikhothane are young people of single parent families who grew up being pampered,” he said. “I met a woman who told me she had taken out a loan to finance her son’s passion and buy the necessary clothes. She prefered to be in debt rather than see her son follow gangs and become a thug.”
But as the movement progressed, it became difficult for most participants to keep up with the growing pressure. “It starts with clothes costing 500 rand, and ends up with jackets by Guess or Dior perfumes costing more than 5,000 rand,” Cedrain pointed out. “A lot of people can’t keep up with this, and some young people as a result live in poor conditions. Young people tell me they’re prepared to do anything to get money.”
“The movement started out as something positive: they were young people who had fun, who promoted non-violence, and who just wanted to prove who was cool,” said Cedrain. “But looking at the way it is being practiced today, it needs to be banned. It’s taken a turn for the worse. Now the movement doesn’t know how to stop.”
Sources: Vocativ, VICE, France24