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Culture, Reality

Burn Swag Burn

by Lindokuhle Nkosi, illustration Trevor Paul / 04.08.2011

Two young boys in school uniform tentatively approach the car. Voices settling into manhood, faces broken out in swollen signs of puberty, they pass a cigarette between the two of them. “We’ll be performing in the park,” they inform me. “We are waiting for people to get changed and then we can begin. They shouldn’t be long, boma-ten minutes or so.” Their English is more telling than the words that they speak. An unnatural, broken flow of prose. Staggered. A smorgasbord of the bare minimum, core words that when strung together in conversation, wobble and buck under the pressure higher-level competency. The skeletal structure provided by hood public schooling where a good percentage of the subjects are taught in their mother-tongue.

The park is less than a minute’s walk away, yet the boys insist on getting in the car and riding to the rendezvous point with me. Car windows rolled down; they turn the sound on the radio up, waving at their peers in the street and ensuring that all and sundry have seen them.

I’m still unsure of why I’m here. Two weeks ago, a croaky boyish voice on the other end of the line promised me a good show (providing I bought them Ultra-Mel custard). 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.

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.

Word spreads quickly. In a few minutes, a group of over sixty school children have gathered in the park awaiting the next izikhothane battle. The boys arrive in a loud, colourful fashion. Luminescent Nike Dry-fit T-shirts, multi-coloured tracksuits, ostentatiously branded shoes and mismatched soccer boots, their bright attire is in stark contrast to the environment. The park is no more than an undeveloped block of land. Dry grass, three barren and skeletal plants, two swings and a slide with faded paint and chipped edges. This is the stage where the teens meet weekly to gain respect and notoriety. “Everyone knows The Exclusive Italian Konka’s are the best,” says 16 year old Lesego. “It’s all about bragging, being better than everyone else. You have to show that you are the number one cheese boys.” Claiming the top spot however, reaches some ridiculous extremes.

It is no longer enough to merely afford the pricey clothing and bling; you have to be rich enough to not need it. This means publicly taking a pair of scissors to a R500 t-shirt, and playing tug-of-war with a R3000 pair of jeans before throwing the scraps to the unaffording, undeserving rivals. To earn an income, this particular crew sells refreshments at Orlando Stadium, but a more sinister rumour speaks of young men turning to petty crime in order to afford this outwardly lavish lifestyle. They indignantly refute this claim. “Ukukhothana actually keeps us away from crime. We work every weekend to get money, and when we do we spend every cent of it on all these clothes. No drugs. No alcohol, just clothes.”

The question remains though. Why do it at all? By their own admission, they aren’t as moneyed as they pretend to be. Why then spend the little cash they do receive on clothing that in some cases will end up tattered rags. The boys provide no answers. In a typically teenage manner, they have paid no thought to the psychology behind the trend. It’s tempting to think of izikhothane as some kind of nihilistic reaction to a rampantly consumerist culture, a negation of the power that “stuff” has over us. But really it comes off as an over-exaggerated homage to consumerism. The desperate quest for individualism that ties its success to brand names and price tags. A shunning of dependency and behavioural expectations that feeds off generic appeal and the admiration of strangers. This is their moment in the spotlight, but unlike Andy Warhol’s prophesized fifteen minutes, this is a search for self-value and not notoriety. When all the romanticism has been sucked out of the ghetto, when history’s lessons have stripped you of what should be inherent self-respect, dignity is inferred. Izikhothane will borrow Armani’s name and Diesel’s reputation, until they can make one of their own.

*Illustration © Trevor Paul.

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  1. Thepa wale Pilazzo a re if u cnt beat us,join us says:

    0844542673 on phne cll nd 0622408875 hai madala i play sportivistanco nga ma expensive arbitr,hai madala bathi kharrna kharrna ngama crvla,torondela cinderela drinking ultramel undr umbrlla

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  2. sandile says:

    Mina i juct wanted to join skhotane umu dyavho

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  3. IF I cnt beat u i guess i hv 2 join u..Awelele says:

    071 023 6058

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  4. ANDILE says:


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  5. ANDILE says:


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  6. bonolo says:

    Shebang wena entlek ketlogo tsena mo mothong okwetseng ma ultra nova ke kopa fore kabona oba kwetse bo “mmeke”fanzo and bo resco maar nna ke Le mosadi waga spaghetti ke kopa gore next time hao kwala w skeem sagago phumule leina laga spaghetti nxah oskaba nhlantsha and Sheba neke heletsa gotsena kha masepeng aa alena nxah hakena gotsena kgetlo labobedi

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  7. Madipuo says:


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  8. Talala Molalala #Lisanyane moeketsi says:

    Mina Talala I speak lacoste coz ngi ya costa wena you speak lacoste coz you are fosta

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  9. Talala Molalala #Lisanyane moeketsi says:

    Kaofela dikhothane ama punchline akho a common nge condom any comment

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  10. mrs RICH b says:

    vele nna ke queen wabo KING Z and now we are wait for the shows LEBUSA YAAAAAAAA SHPELA KA MNADI TENA

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  11. mrs RICH b says:


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  12. we are stress providers we provide stress to a night dress cause we dress 2 impress the chickitas.... says:


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  13. Anonymous says:

    mina ngi fona the DraGon um stress provider ii provide stress 2 a night dress cause ii dress 2 impress ama chickitas…

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  14. we are stress providers we provide stress to a night dress cause we dress 2 impress the chickitas.... says:

    fona the dragon

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  15. blom says:

    King K wase Casaliano

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  16. Snothando says:

    Baf2 plz stop doing tht cause anischaz thina esi-poor

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  17. Snothando says:

    Ashhh aningipha imali phela plz

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  18. pascolavistar says:

    Wish YL le kae Baby Boy wake batla shdout 2size.

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  19. Anonymous says:

    Mina ngi Taxlicious delious ngi jola kanilious o na ma lips are licious futhy o curious thats y nami ngi famous

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  20. Molalala Talala #tag Lisanyane Moeketsi says:

    Is that punchline or deadline maybe you need a ruler to underline your missed line

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  21. Anonymous says:

    Aek nonke niya fosta Mina ingiku DroshkaQuin y’all claim sad droshka ni xabanga kuthi sizo bby sitter la..

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  22. Oyi fashone fosata says:

    All skhotane

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  23. motsumi kgosimere wa zone3 Thaba nchu says:

    skhothane is a game when you dress fence closs to imprese abo malome bafana nawe

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  24. Skhotane is a game sometimes you win sometimes you loss bomabandane says:


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  25. Skhotane is a game sometimes you win sometimes you loss bomabandane says:

    Skhotane is a game sometimes you win sometimes you loss

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  26. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    King LEBO says if u want to khotha with him go back to school and polish your SKHOTANE

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  27. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    KING EASY KiLLER LEBO WA ZONE4 thaba nchu says: i was born in hospital of nikita my mother’s adidas my father’s jordan this is cmf place of skhotane

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  28. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    King BONGANI LIPHOKO wa zone4 Thaba nchu says: hai wena kgosimere oyi copycat ke zo thantha ke o isa o lo bongale ama coolcat wena wildcat

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  29. starvovo says:

    Bo malambane ka o fela ba zone 3 to 4

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  30. starvovo says:

    Mina ke hamba no skhathaza

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  31. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    Hae wena mabandane u are not a skhotane u are u segotlela

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  32. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    Easy killer;(: uthi o sware mabandane

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  33. lebohang says:

    if you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your English mama

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  34. If you want to khotha with me go back to school and polish your engilsh baba says:

    Khathaza easy killer bongani Liphoko wa thaba nchu zone4 says: You were born in Eastern cape by mistake trying to escape

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