Going out with South Africa's flashy young 'boasters'

Group of township kids. Picture by Hamilton Wende

The children of many of South Africa's black middle-class families have no memory of the discrimination and poverty their parents endured under apartheid, and some have taken to roaming the townships in expensive clothes bought at their parents' expense.

Money gleaming. Crisp, new banknotes being counted in the sunlight on a Soweto street.

Two young teenagers wearing designer jeans, shimmering silk shirts, bright pink and blue shoes and white-straw, narrow-brimmed fedoras are passing a large wad of cash from one to the other.

"There's not enough," one says.

"We'll get more," his friend replies. They wander across the road to join a group of their friends who are all dressed in the same patchwork of colour and glitz.

An animated discussion breaks out and somehow - almost like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes - more and more money emerges from backpacks, handbags and the tight pockets of designer jeans.

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Shoes displayed on dashboard. Picture by Hamilton Wende
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Now, it seems, they have enough. The group, ranging in age from 12 to 15 at the oldest, wander over to a parked minibus-taxi.

Sipho, dressed in sky-blue, patent-leather shoes and a white fedora, negotiates with the driver.

He counts out nearly 7,000 rand (£490/$780) in cash and 10 young people climb inside. They have rented the minibus for the afternoon and evening.

Later when I chat to Sipho, I discover that he is only 13 and is the ringleader of the group.

As the minibus draws into the Saturday afternoon traffic, the boys take off a shoe each, lining the dashboard with a colourful array of expensive, Italian-leather shoes.

There are only a few shops that stock these shoes and the silk shirts that the children buy. The shoes cost 3,000 rand (£215/ $330) a pair and the shirts 2,000 rand (£140/$225).

Adults in the cars around us look away as the minibus slowly navigates the traffic.

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They force their parents to tap into their savings or to go without essentials so that they can buy and destroy these luxuries”

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In township slang, these children are known as izikhotane (the boasters). In recent years, they have become a huge social phenomenon as they gather in their hundreds - even thousands - at parks dressed in their expensive outfits.

At these gatherings, loud music blares while the children dance and often ruin - or even destroy - their clothes and shoes, stripping them off and pouring custard on them and rubbing them into the ground to show off and pretend to be rich.

There is a growing outcry from many adults about this behaviour, but the popularity of the izikhotanes among young township teens is high. They even have a Facebook page with pictures of kids covered in money or destroying an expensive smartphone by holding it under a running tap.

They force their parents to tap into their savings or to go without essentials so that they can buy and destroy these luxuries.

Izhikotane revelling on the street

But today Sipho and his friends are more intent on real life than on updating their cyber profiles.

The first stop is a nearby bottle store but there isn't enough stock of the sweet liqueur the children like so they pile back into the minibus and the traffic.

After a 15-minute drive, they arrive at a shopping mall with a larger bottle store. The kids mill about in the parking lot, shouting, laughing and showing off their lurid outfits. Many of the shirts still have the price tags attached, which the kids eagerly shove in each other's faces to compare costs, while crates of beer and liqueur are wheeled out of the store by the attendants.

Adults stare agog at what is happening.

One man stops to talk to me. He explains that, as a teenager, he grew up fighting apartheid in the streets. He was one of the students in the bloody protests in 1976 that have become a part of history known as the Soweto uprisings.

He shakes his head as he watches one of the kids unscrew a bottle of liqueur and start gulping it down.

"This isn't what we struggled for," he says and turns to open the door of his small, battered, hatchback car. He is still staring through the window at the kids as he drives away.

Protestors in Soweto in 1976 The Soweto uprising in 1976 led to three weeks of nationwide protest

The minibus is soon on the road again. Now Sipho has turned up the music and kids are drinking beers and liqueur and making the bus rock on its chassis when they move their bodies to the music as they cruise down the highway.

The driver says nothing but hunkers down over his steering wheel.

A few miles later, he is stopped at a police roadblock. There are a number of empty bottles on the floor of the bus and many of the underage children are already drunk but the police simply wave them on.

Finally we arrive at a park heaving with drunken teenagers and cars trying to make their way through the pandemonium.

Amidst the noise and confusion, one of the children tries to explain what this all means, how it says something about adolescent identity and pride.

"You must dress like this," he says. "Even if you live in a shack."

All pictures of izikhotane are taken by Hamilton Wende.

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