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Izikhothane: a new word for an old fashion?

14 August 2012

The youth of today are going to the dogs. If they aren’t murdering people for their cell phones, they’re committing suicide over a pair of shoes. Izikothane – fashion suicide | The New Age Online:

A school boy who could not get his dad to pay for a pair of fashionable Carvela shoes killed himself in protest.

Fourteen-year-old Kamohelo Tsimane, a Grade 9 pupil at Tlhatlhogang Primary School in Soweto, took his life after a failed shopping spree with his dad.

The boy had desparately wanted the brand-name shoes, which cost at least R1200, so that he could fit in with his township mates.

Things weren’t like that when we were young, old fogeys like me are expected to say. So we can’t be expected to understand the youth culture of today. And I know I’ve written about this before – here Popular culture, celebs and values, and here The youth of today, and yesterday, so I’ll try not to be too boring and repetitive.

Perhaps Kamohelo Tsimane was driven to suicide by the behaviour of other young people like these – Izikhothane | Burn Swag Burn | Mahala:

They bill themselves as street performers, but their art consists of little more than branded clothing and face-offs with rival crews who compete over who has more money. The trend called “ukukhothana”, loosely translated as dissing, is a money-conscious South African version of the USA’s diss battles, but where the American jokes would begin with: “Yo mama is so…” these kids start theirs with: “I’m so rich I can…” And then proceed to demonstrate how much money they have by engaging in wasteful behavior. Starting in the smaller black communities of Gauteng’s East Rand, the phenomenon quickly filtered into Soweto. In a recent incident, a boy from Pimville bought a bucket of KFC chicken, threw it on the floor and then stomped on the chicken pieces, using his R2000 pair of loafers to grind the white meat into the ground before setting the food alight – and then the shoes.

There seems to be some disagreement about whether those who indulge in this kind of behaviour are called “izikothane” or “izikhothane” – the latter spelling seems to be slightly more popular, but, as the writer of that article goes on to point out, while the name may be new, the phenomenon is not.

In the 1950s, a similar trend arose amongst migrant workers and mine labourers who were subject to the cramped and confined conditions of hostel living. Men, separated from their families and forced into a perfunctory sense of congeniality, would hold contests in which they would trade their grimy overalls for the finest suits and flashy two-toned brogues. Called oSwenka, the winner would receive a goat or blankets and maybe some extra money to send home to their families in the Bantustans. For the izikhothane, there is no tangible prize; but the admiring glances from girls in the crowd seems to be sufficient reward.

Phenomena like the izikhothane are sometimes mistaken for youth culture, but they are not. It’s the youth apeing the culture of the bankers and others who plunged the world into recession in 2007-2008.

In my youth earnest middle-aged women sometimes used to ask me what was the difference between ducktails and beatniks. Ducktails were (white) youths who wore fashionable clothes and went around gate-crashing respectable suburban teenage parties in the white middle-class suburbs of Johannesburg. The middle-class teenagers feared and sometimes secretly envied them. There was a similar phenomenon in Britain, where they were called teddy boys, who later divided into mods and rockers. They battled each other at seaside resorts and terrorised the respectable inhabitants.

Beatniks were somewhat different. Actually the beatniks weren’t the real thing, they were the sputniks, the fellow travellers, the groupies and hangers on, in orbit around the beats. But the middle-aged ladies who asked the questions didn’t know that either. But let’s use their terminology for now.

The main difference between ducktails and beatniks was that the ducktails accepted the values of mainstream society, and though they were regarded as antisocial, their main gripe against society was that they weren’t getting the rewards and good things that society and its advertising industry held out to them. Their attitude was “we want it all, and we want it now.”

The attitude of the beats was somewhat different. It was “we don’t want any of it. You can keep it.” The successors to the beats were the hippies, who popularised the slogan “Make love, not war”.

Go back about 800 years to Francis of Assissi, whose father had made his fortune in the fashion industry. There is a memorable scene in the film based on his life, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, in which he tosses all the bales of cloth out of his father’s warehouse, and dresses poorly, and goes out to rebuild an abandoned church, and build a community of beggars for Christ. His parents think he has gone mad, and want him to consult a psychotherapist of those days.

The beats, and beatniks, somehow never spawned a fashion industry of their own. The hippies did, however, at least for a while. You could buy a hippie outfit, for a price, and become a weekend hippie, a plastic hippie.

Beats and hippies were called countercultural, because they rejected the values of mainstream culture, which Christians call “the world”. And Christians like Francis of Assisi rejected the world’s values, and was perhaps mindful of St Paul’s advice, “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), and so they became countercultural non-conformists. (Reminder to Orthodox Christian bloggers: on Friday 17 August we are having a synchroblog on “Orthodoxy and culture” – to what extent is Christianity countercultueral, and to what extent is it tied to mainstream culture?)

The izikhothane are not really countercultural. They are part of the 99%, but they have adopted the values of the 1%. “We want it all, and we want it now.” And those are the values of many of the movers and shakers of our society. What price the Freedom Charter now?

There was this song from my youth, oh, about 45 years ago, that says it all…


They seek him here, they seek him there,
His clothes are loud, but never square.
It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best,
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

And when he does his little rounds,
‘Round the boutiques of London Town,
Eagerly pursuing all the latest fads and trends,
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He thinks he is a flower to be looked at,
And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight,
He feels a dedicated follower of fashion.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
There’s one thing that he loves and that is flattery.
One week he’s in polka-dots, the next week he is in stripes.
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

They seek him here, they seek him there,
In Regent Street and Leicester Square.
Everywhere the Carnabetian army marches on,
Each one an dedicated follower of fashion.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
His world is built ’round discoteques and parties.
This pleasure-seeking individual always looks his best
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

Oh yes he is (oh yes he is), oh yes he is (oh yes he is).
He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly.
In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be,
‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.
He’s a dedicated follower of fashion.
He’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Bheki permalink
    15 October 2013 12:02 pm

    This is the Devil work to mankind.

  2. kingsushi permalink
    3 May 2014 5:29 pm


  3. gugu via gushka permalink
    1 July 2014 2:32 pm

    i lyk to mosha nd i luv izkhothane somuch coz i am a mosha gal vel nd evry1 knws m


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