J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has never been more relevant in explaining and understanding the lives of the Young Black Elite. In South Africa’s case, Peter Pan aka Kenny Kunene aptly fits the description of “the boy who never grew up”. Figuratively speaking of course. Right next to him is little Tinker bell aka Khanyi Mbau and these two individuals have been the unofficial figure heads of the Young Black Elite posse. The international and local media have been unyielding in exposing their opulent lifestyles and they are often portrayed as pleasure-seeking monsters with not a single care for those who are less fortunate or anyone else for that matter, as one is unwillingly blinded by their flamboyant display of wealth.
The small and exclusive island of Neverland – or Sandton, Melrose and the like – is where our Peter, Tink and their posse usually like to play. This is the fantasyland where everything is colourful, expensive and shiny. The money that could feed a small village is quickly spent on outrageous parties, impulsive shopping sprees and cars that scream: “I’m a rich b****!”. This type of behaviour would be expected from someone who had never known any level of wealth before as they would not be able to discipline themselves under the intoxication of excess money. But surely one doesn’t need all this excess? Where is the self-control?
It is true that if they lived a more modest lifestyle, then the local and international media would not find them newsworthy. So with that, the media then take bits and pieces of their social and personal lives and not only do they magnify them for everyone to see but they label these people as ‘gluttonous pigs’ or ‘attention-seeking leeches’. But this magnification is by no means a detached construction without some truth. With an emphasis on how carelessly they spend their money, it is not surprising that they are subjected to public antagonism in a country where poverty and hunger riddle the everyday lives of the vast majority. When asked by the media exactly why they conduct themselves in such a superficial manner, they defend themselves by saying that they should not have to explain themselves to the public or feel ashamed of how privileged they are.
They are right. However, the manner in which they ostentatiously flaunt their affluence regardless of who is watching is the part that sickens me the most. The truth is that they have deluded themselves, and those who aspire to be like them, into thinking that in this Neverland, the money will never run out and that never again do they have to worry about living within their means. Have any of them heard the phrase “never say never”? Clearly not!
They also say that their constant presence in the media (albeit problematic) serves to encourage others to live like them. They want to be the very symbols that ‘inspire the youth’. I feel inspired, all right.
Now how can our story be complete without the Lost Boys (or Girls) who absorb a large portion of what the media projects? Despite the negative representation by the media, this is the new generation of Young Black Elites that look to ‘Peter’ and ‘Tink’ for guidance in how they should live their lives. But there is perhaps something more disgusting than their leaders’ displays of luxury which makes the issue a whole lot scarier.
It’s common that this new generation is not first accustomed to the surroundings of a two-bedroom house or the dusty road of a rural area, but rather high walls with electric fences in a lush suburb with a full-time security guard who protects the lavish cars that are parked in the driveway. As they grow older, they are given the expensive private school education that many envy and dream of. But somewhere along the course of their lives, they seem to think that their private school education (or surname) will automatically open all the right doors to their extravagant futures and secure their places in this high position. The result is that they arrogantly and apathetically stumble through their lives just waiting for the golden key to unlock the expected riches. They no longer see the need to better themselves and work hard because daddy owns half of Joburg. The importance of struggle through hard work has now somehow vanished.
I too was fortunate enough to have this expensive private school education and my family is somewhat well-off. From an early age I learnt the value of honest hard work if I ever wanted to achieve something and I felt the sweet satisfaction when all my efforts eventually paid off. Unlike some of my peers I didn’t come from a family that ‘owned’ a large portion of a particular province or city. But I get rather annoyed or in some cases angry when I encounter a self-indulgent and carefree ‘trust fund baby’, not because I’m jealous of the considerable wealth that they casually spend but because they cannot see how fortunate they are. I cannot fathom the level of indifference of a young individual that has been blessed with incredible resources and unashamedly chooses to exhaust them instead of preserving them.
I am not saying that every young person who was born into wealth or was afforded a brilliant education is lazy, selfish and spoiled. Nor am I saying that they/we now have the duty to be the next great humanitarian. But we must ask ourselves what legacy we want to leave? How are we going to use the opportunities that we have been given to ensure that our futures, as well as the futures of our children, are secure? I know that the Young Black Elite are (Hook)ed on the path of “live fast – die young”, but I sincerely hope that they do not spend the rest of their days Finding Neverland.
Nelisa Ngcobo is a first year student in Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. Her article entitled “The Young Black Elite” received a special mention in the recent exPress imPress blogging competition.