The birds, the BEES and the so­cial but­ter­flies of Joburg’s north

Mpumelelo Macheke

CityPress - - Voices - Macheke is study­ing to­wards his de­gree in English and law at Rhodes Univer­sity in Gra­ham­stown

The arena of “love” among the rich black kids of north­ern Joburg is thrilling and tu­mul­tuous, pompous and po­etic. Typ­i­cally de­fined as hav­ing a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with a par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual, “bae-ism” and its so­cial im­pli­ca­tions have rev­o­lu­tionised the way re­la­tion­ships are en­tered into, de­vel­oped and en­gaged in.

In ob­serv­ing this “bae-ism” cul­ture among these kids of the north, you can de­duce three things.

The first is the power of ap­pear­ance and as­so­ci­a­tion, which seems to be the ba­sis of the so­cial dy­namic in the north. The quintessential Joburg girl is a so­cial over­achiever by virtue of her sex ap­peal and the cir­cles she moves in. She is de­sired and en­vied by all.

Young women like these make it fash­ion­able to be seen par­ty­ing at home­com­ing pic­nics and pos­ing for fashion pho­tog­ra­phers on the streets of the now trendy Braam­fontein.

Their faces are flaunted across Tum­blr and In­sta­gram feeds. It is dif­fi­cult for these girls to live their lives ig­no­rant of their in­flu­ence and ap­peal. But it is pre­cisely this in­flu­ence and ap­peal that obliges these girls to main­tain such norms that are of­ten car­ried into their in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships.

Their typ­i­cal male equiv­a­lent is one who is usu­ally well off and has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­hav­ing badly. In the north, there is a false nov­elty in fe­males en­gag­ing in ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships with such males. It will be dif­fi­cult for these girls to have ro­man­tic in­ter­ac­tions out­side their typ­i­cal north­ern male equiv­a­lents.

Sec­ond is the way these girls pri­ori­tise their male part­ners, es­pe­cially if they orig­i­nate from the north, or have fi­nan­cial or so­cial promi­nence.

In the north, many girls make the mis­take of in­volv­ing them­selves in re­la­tion­ships with the dan­ger­ously am­bi­tious in­ten­tion of treat­ing their part­ners as hus­bands, re­gard­less of their abu­sive be­hav­iour.

Many of these young women en­gage in re­la­tion­ships with these males be­cause they box their ideas of au­then­tic love in the shal­low so­cial stan­dards of the north.

It is one of the main rea­sons they en­gage and stay in phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally and spir­i­tu­ally abu­sive re­la­tion­ships for long pe­ri­ods.

Such re­la­tion­ships pos­sess a sup­posed so­cial pres­tige and are by and large un­healthy for these young women.

These re­la­tion­ships are ro­man­ti­cised even more by the fact that pub­lic knowl­edge of a tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship is lauded among the north’s young elite.

There is a false nov­elty that comes with be­ing in a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship and hav­ing every­one who is so­cially as­so­ci­ated with the north know­ing about it.

In other words, there’s celebrity that comes with the story of the gor­geous, pop­u­lar girl who tries to turn the bad boy into a saint. Such re­la­tion­ships re­duce her dig­nity and self-worth, and di­min­ish her iden­tity as a de­vel­op­ing woman.

The third and equally im­por­tant de­duc­tion is the danger­ous mis­con­cep­tion that throw­ing money and un­fa­cil­i­tated free­dom at your chil­dren will pro­vide them with a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and au­ton­omy.

For many black South Africans, fi­nan­cial ma­te­ri­al­ism is the first point of ref­er­ence when talk­ing about their free­dom. Money is not the only way, but is a per­ti­nent tool blacks use to com­mu­ni­cate, in­ter­pret and ex­press their free­dom in this coun­try.

The black elite are ex­am­ples of this very ex­pres­sion. The gen­er­a­tion of blacks who came into wealth and formed the black bour­geoisie have passed on the moral bur­den of com­ing from “noth­ing into some­thing” to their chil­dren.

Black par­ents typ­i­cally come from strug­gle into free­dom, while their chil­dren are born di­rectly into free­dom. Each gen­er­a­tion re­quires its own set of prin­ci­ples for these gen­er­a­tions to thrive.

A black par­ent whose val­ues and prin­ci­ples are typ­i­cally based on a strug­gle mind-set can­not suc­cess­fully pass on im­por­tant lessons to a child who is born into free­dom, es­pe­cially when money is the em­bod­i­ment of this free­dom.

Gen­er­a­tional val­ues change but the money stays the same. This is where the con­ver­sa­tion about pair­ing prin­ci­ples and pen­nies to the black elite and their chil­dren fails.

Many rich black par­ents make the mis­take of as­so­ci­at­ing their hard­earned eco­nomic free­dom with their chil­dren’s sup­pos­edly un­ques­tioned en­ti­tle­ment to it. This mis­con­cep­tion be­comes danger­ous when elite black in­di­vid­u­als raise their chil­dren, par­tic­u­larly their boys, with tra­di­tional ideas of gen­der func­tions, cou­pled with the con­stant sup­ply of money.

This is why rich, black, male ado­les­cents of the north carry the emo­tional en­ti­tle­ment of “true man­hood”, yet are not able to con­duct them­selves as true men be­cause the con­sis­tent and easy avail­abil­ity of their par­ent’s wealth di­min­ishes that ethic.

What is more tragic about these kinds of re­la­tion­ships the elite black par­ents have with their chil­dren is that it paral­y­ses them – par­tic­u­larly their male chil­dren – from es­tab­lish­ing their own strong ethics in terms of work, the self, and healthy fi­nan­cial and sen­ti­men­tal lega­cies. So many young, rich, black ado­les­cents ex­ert their sup­posed power through abus­ing their par­ents’ wealth, abus­ing the women in their lives and, most trag­i­cally, abus­ing them­selves. Many young, elite, black male ado­les­cents of Joburg’s north­ern sub­urbs are grad­u­ally be­ing paral­ysed by the bur­den of priv­i­lege.

These ro­man­tic pain- and pas­sion­filled re­la­tion­ships are the re­al­i­ties of un­ad­dressed so­cioe­co­nomic and so­cio­cul­tural patholo­gies.

Although these are phe­nom­ena not ex­clu­sive to north­ern Joburg, there is value in ex­plor­ing our own lo­cal dis­course – the South African black elite re­al­ity – for this.

So tell me ... who’s your bae?

PHOTO: GRANT PAYNE

WHO’S YOUR waE? He­do­nism is closely tied to sta­tus among the black ‘in’ crowd

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