16th Apr2017

To Be or Not to Be: A Focus on Labels

by admin

Labels are not only a form of categorization; they also, in some cases, form part of one’s identity. But what if people don’t conform to the labels given to them, what if they adopt new ways of identification, or even, imagine a situation where individuals do not want to be labelled at all?

I was recently eavesdropping on a conversation between three of my colleagues in class recently. The interesting part about it was that it focused on sexual orientation. In one instance, one of the girls exclaimed, “I don’t want to be labelled, I am just a girl attracted to other girls”. This argument, reminded me of the one made by Raven Symone in her interview with Oprah two years ago, when she did not want to be labelled either as gay, or African American. In response, her friend argued that she was also attracted to other girls, and that there was a name for it. She then further explained that people who choose not to conform to labels were in denial, and as expected, this led to a debate amongst the trio.

My question is why does everything need a label? Personally, I never really understood the concept of gender non-conforming, because as much as it is a refusal of being classified as either male or female, it is still a label. Another problem is the concept of “coming out of the closet”, which to me is very similar to that of “skeletons in the closet”. That alone, carries connotations that being homosexual needs confirmation from the heterosexual community to be legitimate. I am not trying to dismiss the fact that for some individuals, especially in the African community, homosexuality is still misunderstood. However, I do ask that aren’t we, as society, through constantly asking others to explain themselves, preventing each other from living our fullest lives?

The point is no one has a choice in how others label them. The sad part is that all these derogatory names are given to the vulnerable members of society namely women, the disabled, the queer, the impoverished and people of color. This further perpetuates the stereotype that anything other than white, male, middle class, able bodied and heterosexual, is not considered normal. Let us imagine how financially successful we would all be, if we were not so invested in how other people live their lives.

Don't Label Me

24th Aug2015

The Politics of Everywhere

by admin

Jeffrey Motlhamme shares his views on Politics and how he believes it infiltrates almost every aspect of our everyday lives.

Have you ever looked at the different aspects of society and realised that each one of them shares a link with politics? It is through the ‘Politics of Everywhere’ that we can attempt to answer this politics 1question. Today, almost everything in the world is politicised; from the colour of your skin, gender, culture and religion, to your choice of work. Therefore, almost everywhere you go and everything you do is confronted by politics.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of politics, one still hears remarks like: “Oh no, I don’t involve myself in politics,” or, “Politics is useless”. But these viewpoints are ignorant because politics clearly affects our everyday lives as well as our group identity. This means that we are more likely to identify with people whose politics are similar to that of our own. This is essentially what Pericles meant when he stated that: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, does not mean that politics won’t take an interest in you.”

In other words, just because you don’t care about politics doesn’t mean that politics will not care about you. Just because you don’t take politics seriouslypolitics 2 doesn’t mean that politics will not take you seriously. This is just a moment of enlightenment to those individuals who disregard the role and influence of politics in everything. It is in the existence of politics in everything that I call the ‘Politics of Everywhere.’

13th Apr2015

Kendrick Lamar & J Cole: Our Modern Day Pac & Biggie

by admin

Jeffrey Motlhamme speaks about the hip hop culture and some of its influential contributors.

 

Hip hop, as a culture, is known as a movement that was born out of a struggle and serves as a tool to communicate messages that appeal to society in general. However, throughout the years there has been a transition within the hip hop culture. We had rappers focusing more on talking about what they have as well as crime. Yes, it is understood that the whole idea about the hip hop culture is self-expression, but this should not shadow the fact that rap is meant to instil hope in the hearts of the emotionally broken and hopeless. With the racial violence that is taking place around the world, especially in the United States, there is a need for rappers to focus more on the topics, like, racism. Luckily we have saviours in the rap industry, for example: Kendrick Lamar and J Cole.

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Looking at Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” there are some songs that provide hope for the followers of the movement who wish to address the main problems affecting society. For instance, in this album, Lamar constantly addresses the issue of racism; the track list says it all. By rapping about such issues, Lamar is touching on and bringing awareness to what is currently considered one of the most sensitive issues around the world – race – unlike those rappers who are disrespecting the art of hip hop by painting negative images for society to look at.

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On the other hand, J Cole is doing a great job of painting some vivid pictures of the society we live in. He puts his best efforts into addressing racism and stereotypes that different parts of society have about different cultural or racial groups; particularly, black culture. J Cole offers us a piece of his thoughts about racism by taking us through the crimes committed to black young men by white policemen as well as the stereotypes people have about black young men. This can be seen by J Cole’s famous song, “Be Free,” which he wrote soon after the tragic and unlawful death of Michael Brown. J Cole also demonstrates the need to defend black culture in his new music video for his song, “GOMD,” from his third studio album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive”.

j cole

Therefore, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar are what we can call the modern day ‘Pac’. Some of the followers of hip hop culture might not agree with the aforementioned ideas of what rappers should focus on because, yes; sometimes hip hop is purely about fun and entertainment. However, at the end of the day these are the issues that deeply affect society and what rappers say contributes to the ways in which society in general view black culture.

4

2Race is an important issue and it is a problem that every society faces. Web Dubois accurately predicted this situation when he declared that race would be the biggest problem of the 21st century. Therefore, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar are touching on important topical issues that other rappers are perhaps too afraid to rap about. This is a lesson to other rappers because rap, in practice, should be the voice of the voiceless. These two rappers are important to hip hop because of the realism they offer. They reach out to all the rappers and hip hop lovers out there to stop disrespecting the art. They also call on black communities to stop the black-on-black violence experienced around the world. To understand what these two great thinkers communicate with their music, you first have to understand the forms that racism takes around the world; particularly within black communities. But nonetheless, there you have it: Kendrick and Jermaine, our modern day Pac and Biggie.

20th Oct2014

2014 in retrospect

by admin

Sibongile Malgas reflects on some of the big South African news stories of 2014.

sm

Twenty- fourteen (2014) will go down in the books for being one of those legendary years in South Africa. So much has happened and I believe through these events a lot of lessons are to be learnt by South Africans and there’s honestly so much we can take from it all. So I took the liberty of recounting all those memorable moments that made us cringe, laugh or shake our heads in disbelief whilst uttering the infamous ‘eish’.

Firstly ‘Madonsela-Gate’. We really must give props to Advocate Thuli Madonsela for the extraordinary gallons of courage she has shown throughout the year. In addition to doing her job she had to face countless attacks from the ruling party – the African National Congress (ANC) – and various stakeholders. Who can ever forget the “that lady with a big nose” comments made famous by The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) president Collen Malatji. The amount of disrespect forced on this woman has been such a disgrace. The lengths that people will go to, just to cover up corruption and injustice in this country really is astounding. What worried me the most about the Madonsela scandal was that there were and still are not any consequences for people who make stupid and outrageous comments at public officials. Malatji and his fellow hooligans simply got a slap on the wrists and were sent well on their way to cause more chaos in the world – sounds quite familiar, doesn’t it? This situation speaks to lack of respect for woman in this country and the failure to correct this by those in power should be of great concern to all citizens.

Secondly, Oscar Pistorius. Now I know we are all quite tired about hearing about this man, but we must admit that this internationally watched court case has brought so much attention to the South African justice system. As a nation we’ve realised that social perception of justice and the actual justice system are two completely different concepts. Many people were unhappy about the judgement passed by Judge Masipa and it was reported that she even received death threats from the public. This incident fuelled the ideology that the rich can get away with anything and again we were divided along racial lines. Unfortunately this case has also demonstrated that it takes a scandal for people to realise that there are great injustices in the world. More bitter sweet was the re-sentencing of Molemo “Jub Jub” Maarohanye’s 2010 drunk and driving case. Was it a ‘trying to save face’ attempt by the Justice system? Maybe, but it might have sparked even more controversy about the sentencing of high profile cases.

Moving away from these cases, I don’t know how long it will take before us as a nation can tackle issues without relating it to racial conflicts. I am talking about the Saga that is #BlackFace. The country was up in arms over the pictures posted on Facebook by two white students from The University of Pretoria. The so-called ‘derogatory’ pictures depicted white girls dressed up as Black domestic workers all in the name of fun. I’m one of those who found these pictures very insulting to my Black psyche. This is simply because it really was not necessary for them to dress like that, especially considering that twenty years really isn’t that long for people to be getting under each other’s skin (literally). Nonetheless we can only hope for the day where we’ll laugh at such issues – maybe in the next 20 years or so.

Finally, the Rise of the red berets! The Juju nation, the controversial commander in chief of the newly formed opposition party and friends. The EFF, in all its rowdy glory. Despite how we might feel about the EFF we must respect the fact that they really have ‘revolutionised’ the political sphere of the country. In between staging walk out, banging on parliamentary tables and delivering life shattering insults by not calling Cyril Ramaphosa ‘honourable’, they have won the hearts of a few millions of South Africans. I’m still not sold however on the validity and intentions of this party but even I can appreciate their attempt to make the news that much more interesting and get a few heads rolling in the process. Despite my initial negative feelings towards the party (I still do not agree with their manifesto), even I can see that their role in parliament may have positive effects on the crisis of accountability. So in true EFF fashion, I say BRING BACK THE MONEY!

So it’s clear that it has been quite the year in South African news! With a lot to think about as a result of the stories mentioned in this article, here is wishing our country all the best for the future.

22nd Sep2014

Readdressing affirmative action

by admin

SMSibongile Malgas looks at the issue of affirmative action in South Africa.

According to the South African Department of Labour’s website which outlines Legislation in Section 15, of the Employment Equity Act, as a result of apartheid, affirmative action ensures that qualified people from designated groups have equal opportunities in the workplace. So basically all people who were previously disadvantaged (Black people (as per the apartheid definition) as well as women and the disabled) should be given first preference of job opportunities if the selection criteria is met by all candidates. This seems straightforward and simple enough right? Wrong! This piece of legislature has been the topic of much controversy for the entire duration of South Africa’s young democracy.

The same topic was in the news recently when Captain Renate Barnard of the South African Police Service (SAPS) recently made an appearance at South Africa’s highest court –The Constitutional Court- in her bid for justice against perceived unfair discrimination in her work place. According to Barnard she had been over looked three times for a promotion because she is white. She further argued that she had the highest scores and came recommended. As a result she started her nine-year court battle, which came to an end recently.

The court ruled in favour of the SAPS as their actions were in line with the constitution. Judge Dikgang Moseneke went further to say, “To be fair, a restitution measure must pass a threefold test: it must target a class of people that has been susceptible to unfair discrimination; it must be designed to protect or advance those classes of people; and it must promote the achievement of equality. Once the measure passes this test it is neither unfair nor presumed to be unfair. This is because the constitution says so.”

This ruling however encouraged much debate of the relevance of affirmative action in this day and age and questioned how ethical this legislature is. Initially I was one of those who stood on the fence trying to be all “politically correct” about this; I mean I wouldn’t want to think I only got the job because of the colour of my skin or the fact that I was so fortunate enough to be born female. But after much thought and debate I tried to reason with the thinking behind the implementation of this legislature and honestly it makes sense. Apartheid was institutionalised for 46 years in South Africa (1948-1994) and for 46 years white South Africans dominated the entire work force of South Africa. There was little chance for an individual from any other race to receive a meaningful job, so it would be only fair to try and create a more equal and representative working environment across all spheres of the economy in our new democracy.

The argument then received a new dimension when a listener of a local Talk Radio station called in and suggested to host Redi Tlhabi that affirmative action should not include the so called ‘born free’ generation as they were not affected by apartheid as they were born after its end. This I found quite annoying and very disturbing. This lady like so many people who were not affected by apartheid have still to this day not realised the severe extent to which apartheid affected people’s lives. Although apartheid as an institution is over, the aftermath is still very evident in the dynamics of this country. There is a long line of poverty within many families that disables many ‘born frees’ from being able to fully participate in the economy. This poverty cycle has its roots in apartheid and cannot simply be ignored just because two or three Black people received jobs over their White counterparts.

Of course one cannot speak of affirmative action and ignore the issues and problems that emerge in the current way in which it is practised. One of the biggest issues here is that Affirmative Action is sometimes used to hide nepotism, which is one of the reasons why there is such a negative attitude towards it. Secondly the processes in which these target groups actually acquire the skills to meet the necessary criteria when they enter the workforce. It is no secret that majority of Coloured and Black children attend schools that are not in the best of conditions, according to Sandile Zungu of the Black Business Council, the low standard of education is what is failing Black students because most of these children end up not being able to further their education because of lack of resources in both their schooling facilities and homes. This thus decreases the prospective number of graduates who aren’t white. So essentially the system is tossing out less graduates who are not white when compared to white graduates on the basis of the black: white and coloured: white ratio. This is especially evident in jobs that require critical skills. This was further reiterated by the report published by the Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela last week which showed that only 17,9 per cent of black people are in skilled employment compared to over 61 per cent of whites.

I would really like to believe that this policy was not passed as a way to oppress white people or hold them at ransom about what happened in the past, but rather as a way to redress the inequalities that are still visible today. We as a country need to find a way to make affirmative action work efficiently to ensure every South African has equal opportunities. Furthermore weshould stop pointing fingers at each other whenever things go wrong. Threatening to migrate or burn things down just doesn’t cut it anymore.

 

25th Aug2014

Ferguson on fire

by admin

SS2Sandiswa Sondzaba looks at the protests in Ferguson in the United States and how these link to a post-racial society.

Ferguson, Missouri in the United States has been on the international news circuit lately. The town has been plagued by protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer. The incident proved to be a tipping point for the town as it has been simmering with racial tensions. Following the shooting there were ten days of protests, which culminated into violence between protesters and police officers . The unrest resulted in the arrival of National Guard units in a fleet of Humvees on Monday. This was the first such deployment to quell civil unrest in the US since Seattle in 1999.

The incident has brought to question the idea of America being a post-racial society. Following the election of Barack Obama into the presidential office in 2008, a lot of Americans have embraced the idea of America being rid of its complex racial past. The idea of the post-racial society came about to bring about unity amongst Americans of all races. However, despite this ideal, there were a few incidences that were reported on, which undermined the post-racial American dream. First there was the 2009 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates as he tried to enter his own home. Most people stated that that was a minor glitch made by police officers. However, the post-racial dream was shattered with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. A lot of people tried to downplay the incident by stating that as George Zimmerman was Hispanic, this did not reflect on racial tensions within America. However, it would be hard for those same people to argue that Michael Brown’s death has no connections to race whatsoever.

In spite of the intentions made to erase America’s racial history, there have been efforts made to confront her legacy of racism. A prominent example of this effort is the Academy-Award winning 12 Years’ A Slave, which told the unknown story of Solomon Northupp, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. This story got a lot of Americans to confront the legacy of slavery, which so many have tried to gloss over. It gave Americans a chance to reflect on how racism still informs a large part of American discourse. It also gave Americans a chance to understand that the post-racial dream is one, which may never be realized. This is because of the institutionalized racism, which still exists within America today. An example of this racism is the high incarceration rate for young African-American males on minor drug charges. The racism has also begun to manifest itself with the gentrification of former inner cities such as Brooklyn.

This shattering of the post-racial American dream is relevant to South Africa. As we try to move on from the legacy of apartheid, we have hit a snag with regards to racial relations. With groups such as AfriForum claiming the occurrence of a white genocide and tensions arising over the land reform debate, we have begun to understand the complexities of race relations in post-apartheid South Africa. What Ferguson has shown us is that racism is a worldwide phenomenon, which affects different societies differently. It has also shown us that the attempts to get rid of racism cannot be mere political rhetoric. These attempts have to look at the structures, which facilitate racism and allow for racial divisions to become deeply entrenched. It is important for all of us to become more aware of how racism remains institutionalized within our poverty and we make the effort to eradicate this institutionalization. This is important not only for our future, but also to honour the memory of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and others who have lost their lives because of racial tension.

18th Aug2014

Hi #Blackface meet the Black girl

by admin

sm1Sibongile Malgas looks at the recent Blackface scandal that occurred in South Africa.

Surely we’ve all seen the controversial pictures of the two girls from the University of Pretoria dressed up as domestic workers complete with doeks, brown paint smeared on their faces and arms and exaggerated large bums. Some celebrities, news networks, political parties and everyday people were up in arms over the issue While others just couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Blacks do it too, was the shared sentiment among certain onlookers and serial commenters on various newspaper pages on Facebook. Comments ranged from “Black people just need to grow up” and “Blacks’ take this racism ‘thing’ too seriously” to “Racism must stop!” and “Action needs to be taken against such racist and barbaric people”. So this is the Black girl’s response to the hoo haa that is #BlackFace.

Various articles were written in response to the matter but one that particularly caught my eye was written by Khaya Dlanga for the Mail & Guardian titled Kodwa siyaqhelwa (meaning we are being taken for granted in isiXhosa). In the article Dlanga makes a compelling argument as to why the pictures are racist. Firstly, why are we still explaining in 2014 to people why certain things are offensive, especially among knowledgeable young people who should know better? Secondly, it’s funny how all these incidents always take place in areas synonymous with racism. We saw this with the white students from The University of the Free State who fed Black workers food with urine in it. It can also be argued that Pretoria is not the most racially friendly city. One can’t help but cry foul when racism rears its ugly head, Dlanga concluded.

But my question is what exactly is the issue here? Is it the fact that they were dressed to imitate Black people or the fact that they were dressed as Black domestic workers? A lot of the arguments pointed to Black women who use skin lightening products to look ‘white’ and have weaves in various colours including blonde. Since the very beginning of the black race, there have been different shades of skin colors. Today we see terms like ‘Yellow-bones’ (light skinned) and ‘chocolate-brownies’ (dark skinned). The reality is that a lot of Black girls have a misguided perception that beauty only comes in shades of yellow (which is linked to colonial brainwashing – that lighter is better), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going out of their way to look like white girls. The weave story. Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilians and countless other races have long and silky hair; I think you get the point! The second issue which the vast majority seem to have resonated with the most is the mockery of domestic workers. Yes, in South Africa majority of domestic workers are Black women but I’m quite sure that they’re not the only ones. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that black people work in a variety of career fields. When choosing to dress up as black women what stopped them from choosing to dress as an executive? (Here I am not saying that would have made the blackface better nor am I belittling the work of domestic helpers. I am just highlighting the problems in their thoughts).

The issue of #BlackFace thus goes much deeper than that of a picture of two irresponsible girls who got a little camera happy. It is about the struggle of Black people for hundreds of years who have fought for the right to be respected, and have their values respected. Whether or not the intentions of those girls were to ridicule Black people is not important because essentially it was racist. It popularises racist stereotypes. Considering the country’s history and our battle for racial tolerance, we ought to know that something’s are just wrong. Basically this BlackGirl is offended!

26th May2014

Consciously Black?

by admin

sm1Sibongile Malgas looks at modern day blackness.

I recently took it upon myself to educate myself with a light read. My choice of book you ask, well I came across a relatively new series called The Youngsters. It is a pocket sized sequence of seven books written by young South Africans reflecting on their lives and post-apartheid South Africa. One that particularly grabbed my attention was written by Zama Ndlovu, also known by herTwitter handle @JoziGoddess. The title of her book is ‘A Bad Black’s Manifesto’. As you’ve probably guessed she dwells quite a bit on race or rather, the issue of being the modern version of a Black person in a country with our past.

In her book she quotes the late Steve Biko on his famous rendition on the meaning of black: “Those who are by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated against as a group in the South African society and identifying themselves as a unit in the struggle towards the realisation of their aspirations. This definition illustrates to us a number of things:

  1. Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.
  2. Merely by describing yourself as a black you have started on a road towards emancipation, you have committed yourself to fight against all forces that seek to use your blackness as a subservient being”.

He further states that:

“Black people – real black people – are those who can hold their heads high in defiance rather than willingly surrender their souls to the white man.” (Taken from The Youngsters: A Bad Black’s Manifesto by Zama Ndlovu page 96)

This definition obviously relates to time period of around the 1960’s and 70’s and since then some things have changed. Steve Biko identifies the oppressor as the ‘white man’ relating to apartheid times. In today’s society we are fighting so many different struggles that do not necessarily relate to race. Women are oppressed by their male counter parts. We have husbands, boyfriends, uncles, fathers that are raping, hurting and degrading women in their homes and communities. Ndlovu illustrates this perfectly by simply saying “A black man cannot be my ally against white oppression if he becomes my oppressor because of my gender”. (Page 103).

In Steve Biko’s definition, he makes no provision for black on black oppression. Long after the colonialist have left we still hear of African leaders being embroiled in the genocide of their own people because of political intolerance and sheer greed. What would Mr. Biko say about the kiiling of miners in Marikana when some of the people who sit on the boards of these mining companies are supposedly those who were involved in the liberation struggle of the black man?

Thus one cannot help but wonder about the relevance of the definition of blackness and whiteness in contemporary South Africa. Diverging away from what Black Consciousness is and is not. It’s important to also look at the difference in the black community over the years. Ndlovu notes this as she says that the Black Consciousness definition needs to be dynamic enough to allow for a response to changes in the black condition over time. With economic emancipation comes the rise of different economic classes for those that are defined as black. With this, the acceptance that there are a growing number of people who are far more privileged than the average black, white, Indian or coloured. This now creates a crisis of legitimacy. Because we are now no longer oppressed, because now we see black individuals on the same footing as their former oppressor, are we no longer fulfilling the true meaning of being black? Essentially are we any less black? Pre-1994 all people who were not white united behind the common cause of an equal South Africa. Unfortunately Black Consciousness as it relates to oppression gives little insight to define what the stages of emancipation looks like.

So I as the 2014, so called privileged, black individual took it upon myself to define blackness as it is understood by me. Being black is not feeling the need to constantly prove myself to any other race; it is the realisation that I am as competent and intelligent as they are. I am uniquely made with my own gifts and talents. Being black is not a power I possess to profit from simply because I am black, but rather an opportunity to show the world that I too am capable. In order for me to be black I do not have to be angry nor do I have to explain my blackness in order to fit in. I do not have to speak in a certain way to be seen as a truthful representative of the black community whilst pretentiously forgetting the multi-racial school I attended. Rather being black is simply the opportunity to be myself, and really that’s all anyone can be.

 

18th Mar2013

The brown service conundrum

by admin

Pontsho Pilane looks at a specific element of the service industry in South Africa.

pptbsc1South Africa’s population is a majorly “brown”; I say brown because I am including Indian, Coloured and Black people. And because of this fact, it is no surprise that most of the people who are working class are brown. Our cleaners, gardeners, cashiers, municipality or government clerks and police force are brown, which means that we are in contact with a lot of brown people on a daily basis. As a brown person myself, I am disturbed by the service I sometimes receive and have previously received from fellow brown people.

Recently, I was at the traffic department, sorting out a few glitches with my licence. If you have ever been in a Municipality line or better yet, the Home Affairs line, you can understand how unpleasant the task at hand was. What made my enquiry even less pleasant was the female clerk (who happens to be brown). Every time I asked her a question she would mumble the response with no effort or intention whatsoever to help me. Similarly, we had a domestic helper at my house that would not clean on a Saturday because my family was home (even though she gets paid to work on a Saturday). Despite this she would tell us stories of how a previous (white) employer would make her work on Sundays without pay. Then there was the waitron who took his time getting our order because he was giving other (white) customers preference, with the assumption of getting a better tip from them instead of us. These are but a few incidences where I have experienced bad service from my people.

pptbscMy problem with the lack of excellent service from brown people stems from the fact that I have witnessed them giving better service to white people, like at the restaurant, after and even before giving me or other brown people bad service. Many Brown people give bad service to other brown people; they make you feel like you have to earn their help- even though they would just be doing their job by helping you.

It always bothers me why we abuse our own like that. I think we treat each other so badly because we do not like ourselves. We do not think that we deserve excellence and it should be reserved for white people. It is not only those clerks that are in the wrong; but we are wrong for not complaining and voicing out our concerns. Every time I have to complain about bad service from a brown person, especially in blue-collar working conditions, I feel like I am taking away food from their children’s mouth. Because, truth be told, they do not make a substantial amount of money and robbing them of that little they have does not sit well with my heart. Our racial insecurities have crept into our minds so much so that we do not realise that not complaining about lack of good service sabotages the very same people we are trying to protect, and sadly, ourselves. Our tolerance for below par service also hinders the possibility of it ever getting better.

Perhaps we do not have the same “no nonsense” attitude like our white counterparts, or maybe it is because we see our brothers and sisters behind those glass windows when we pay our electricity bill and all they see is themselves; another overworked slave to the bureaucratic system trying to make ends meet.

31st Oct2012

The Young Black Elite

by admin

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.

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