A member of the Izikhothane movement pretends to set fire to a South African banknote with a match, accompanied by the comment: “We’re not burning money, we make it rain!”. Photo published on one of the movement’s Facebook pages.
They burn money, destroy expensive clothes and pour bottles of alcohol on the ground. The 'Izikhothane' live well beyond their means, spending more money than they and their parents can afford in order to be cool. This South African craze is as intriguing as it is shocking.
Several townships in Johannesburg, mainly Soweto in the south and Diepsloot in the north, claim to be the birthplace of 'Izikhothane' youth culture, also called 'Skhotane' and 'Ukukhothana' in other neighbourhoods. The term – Zulu for “to lick” – apparently has several origins. Some say it refers to the action of licking the fingers to peel through bundles of money to spend on clothes, shoes and alcoholic spirits. Others say it refers to being drenched in 'Ultramel', a local custard considered a luxurious desert in black townships, and of licking hands and clothing.
Video showing dances and practices of the 'Izikhothane' published on Vimeo by Jamal Nxedlana.
The 'Izikhothane', known for their eccentric and wildly-coloured clothing, are typically aged between 12 and 25 and mainly come from the black middle class. They claim to be non-violent, in a country with an average of 43 murders a day. On Facebook, they often organise “pantsula” competitions, a style of hip-hop invented in South African ghettos. It is a chance for people to go to extreme lengths to show who is the wealthiest. Some, for example, go as far as breaking their mobile phones in public. The more expensive the phone, the more the act is revered by their peers.
A key characteristic of the 'Izikhothane' is wearing eccentric clothing and colourful Italian shoes. Photo by Muzi Kingpin.
The phenomenon gained notoriety in 2012 when several television stations reported on it. The South African station eNCA broadcast a story about an 'Izikhothane' member who committed suicide after being pressured by his peers to keep spending money, even though his family did not have the means.
Following a flood of criticism in the South African press and warnings from the Johannesburg police that burning money, either in public or in private, is a criminal offence, the 'Izikhothane' have kept a low profile. But they continue to organise meetings via Facebook or on Twitter using the hashtag '#skhotane', which is helping the movement gain momentum.
Video published in November 2012 showing an 'Izikhothane' member destroying and burning money.
Some NGOs have tried to turn young people away from the movement by organising free activities, such as drama workshops.
On social networks, each group posts ever more eccentric photos to show off their wealth.
“To those who criticise us, I say: ‘If you can’t beat us, join us!'"
Muzi Kingpin is 23 years old and lives in Sebokeng in southern Johannesburg. He is part of the Farmton Moola Spenderz group.
I don’t have a problem with the way I act; I only buy expensive clothes in order to be as fashionable as possible. During our meetings, we simply party or re-enact dance battles, which are like are drugs to me. Izikhothane is just a way for us to say: ‘We have everything we want and our pockets are never empty.’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, or that we could have given it to the poor instead. Personally, I don’t spend my parent’s money in order to live and get by. If I want to destroy banknotes, who can stop me? It’s not our job to give money to the poor; that’s the government’s problem. If people’s parents let them do this even though they don’t have the means, it’s because Izikhothane also turns young people away from violence.I don’t intend on doing this for the rest of my life. In two years, I want to start a family and stop blowing money away. In the meantime, to those who criticise us, I say: ‘If you can’t beat us, join us!'Photo posted on Facebook by Muzi Kingpin with the caption: ‘these outfits cost 6,000 euros each!’
“Young people tell me they’re prepared to do anything, including hitting their parents, to get money.”
Cédrain Wambe is a student from Cameroon. He worked on 'Izikhothane' as part of his studies at Wits University in Johannesburg.
The Izikhothane movement has been around since the start of the 2000s, but it really started to attract more people between 2011 and 2012 when some people started to behave subversively.I came across a lot of young people at university who were drawn to the non-violent and festive nature of the phenomenon. The majority of Izikhothane are young people of single parent families who grew up being pampered. I met a woman who told me she had to take out a loan to finance her son’s passion and buy the necessary clothes. She preferred to be in-debt rather than see her son follow gangs and become a thug.The problem with this movement is that it’s a mad rush to keep up: it starts with clothes costing 500 rand [around €37], and ends with jackets by Guess or Dior perfumes costing more than 5,000 rand [€370]. A lot of people can’t keep up with this, and some young people as a result live in poor conditions. Just because being part of an Izikhothane group is a source of pride and social recognition.
The 'Izikhothane' movement has grown so big that even young children are joining the movement. Photo posted on a facebook group.
The movement’s origins don’t seem to have any political basis. But at its core – when you listen to them – they want to act against politicians, whom they say are doing nothing for young people, and against Western products that symbolise White society. Their ‘guru’ is a businessman called Kenny Kunene, an exuberant figure known for his penchant for ‘body sushi’ [eating sushi off women’s bodies], his gigantic free parties, as well as provocatively questioning politicians on his twitter account.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. But looking at the way it’s being practised today, it needs to be banned. At university, young people I speak to regularly tell me outrageous things, that they’re ready to anything, such as hitting their parents, in order to have money; they would blackmail them by threatening to stop their studies. It’s taken a turn for the worse. Now the movement doesn’t know how to stop.
Some web users post photos mocking the Izikhothane.
This post was written with France 24 journalist Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron)