BRANDS RULE: Wearing expensive, designer clothes is one of the ways that teenagers in White City, Soweto, allegedly earn respect from their peers. The need to fit in is paramount. Pictures: Fati Moalusi
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 Grade9 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.
An advert of the shoes says “each shoe boasts the signature stitching put in place by the careful fingers of an expert Italian shoemaker”.
Tsimane could not contain his disapointment. He hanged himself in the outside toilet at the weekend.
The dead boy’s shocked father, Thabo Tshabalala, 45, yesterday recalled events that led to the tragedy.
“We went to Jabulani Mall, he (Tsimane) asked if we could go into Spitz, we did and he asked for a pair of Carvela,” recalled Tshabalala.
“I told him that he had to improve his mathematics marks and EMS marks first.”
Tshabalala, who was aware of his son’s expensive taste, said he did not think much more about their interaction.
Looking back, Tshabalala said in the past he had spoiled his son by pandering to his every wish.
However, this time around he put his foot down.
“He used to get everything he wanted, but I had to tell him that his marks have to improve, I never deprived him of anything …he had the best,” said Thabalala.
Tsimane’s school mates at Tlhatlhogang Primary School said the Izikothane group was to blame for his death. Izikothane is a group of young people who wear very expensive clothes.
Thabang Ndlala, 15, a Grade 9 pupil, said that wearing expensive clothes was one of the ways that teenagers in White City, Soweto, earn respect from their peers. After all, Carvela adverts say the shoes are “an exclusive premium fashion brand that denotes style, status, quality and heritage” which makes the wearer feel “I have arrived, I am fashionable and I feel special”.
Ndlala, who is a member of the Izikothane group also known as the LTD’s, said he was forced into crime to afford expensive clothes.
He said White City was overrun with Izikhothane competing for respect and attention by wearing expensive clothes, drinking expensive whiskey, carrying smartphones and bundles of R100 notes in their wallets.
Ndlala said the culture had become so popular that school kids would wear expensive brands under their clothes.
“During break time, we would take off our sweaters and show off our expensive jerseys.”
He said school children were pressured into buying Karrimor bags, which cost about R400.
On weekends different Izikothane groups meet at Thokoza park, where they have their fashion competitions.
The competition involves “verbal sparring”, which involves shouting out brand names and their origins.
The bizarre games also include burning expensive brands of clothing items and money.
They also have games in which expensive whisky bottles are balanced on top of cars and when they fall the last bottle standing is deemed the “coolest” brand.
During school holidays the groups would organise camping trips to various resorts and botanical gardens outside of Johannesburg.
This is normally the highlight of their season.
Ndlala said his crew specialises in wearing the Sfarzo brand of clothing, while other groups prefer Muracchini (DMD), and Rozmola.
Another Skothane, who only wanted to be known by his crew name, Mniro, who belongs to the CBS (Spanish Converter Boys) crew, said both his parents were unemployed, but he still demanded expensive clothes from them.
He said his crew provides clothes to fellow members who can’t afford them.
Mniro, who goes to Morris Isaacson High School, said he had lost his BlackBerry in a game while battling other crews in Thokoza Park.
He said in some cases, a Skothane would buy a bucket of KFC fried chicken stomp on the entire bucket with a pair of Cavellas.
“After that, you would burn the shoes, to prove a point,” he said.
During these games the credibility of the participants is at stake that’s what leads to most fights.
“We would ask you about certain brands and how much they are worth, if you fail to answer, you lose,” said Mniro.
He also said the different crews would put bottles of Hennessy on top of their cars to see which would remain standing.
Soweto police spokesperson John Serala said whenever the Izikhothane meet at Thokoza Park in Rockville, fights breakout over clothes.
He said some of the young teenagers carry knives.
“They always give us problems on weekends, but it gets worse during school holidays, because that’s where groups from all over Gauteng meet in Soweto,” he said.
Serala said the groups would normally rent out taxis that would blast loud music.
However, he said Soweto police would always monitor their movements.
A clinical psychologist from Johannesburg south, Pinky Maringa, said expensive taste among teenagers has always been there.
However, she said teenagers fall prey to peer pressure which often sees them demanding expensive clothes and gadgets their parents cannot afford.
“Many of these Izikothane’s are still teenagers who are still in a transitional phase, they easily get sucked into peer pressure if they do not have a close relationship with their parents.”
Maringa said the Izikhotane smashed their phones and spilled their expensive alcohol as a means of showing off and gaining respect from their peers.
She said apartheid was also to blame for the formation of Izikhothane.
“Black people in the townships were not exposed to all of these things that they are now exposed to,” she said.
Sipho Nkwanyana, the spokesperson for the United Taxis Association Front (Utaf), a front representing more than 20 taxi associations in Gauteng, said he supports the decision of some of Soweto taxi associations to boycott the Izikothane at weekends.
“We will not associate ourselves with the kinds of activities these children get up to on weekends and during school holidays; they get out of control when they are drunk, that sometimes puts our drivers at risk,” said Nkwanyana.
A Soweto parent, Francina Mapisa, 43, said she was hurt by her 13-year-old son, who also has an obsession with expensive clothes.
“I cannot even afford to pay our rent. I get hurt when I cannot even provide sometimes what my child asks of me,” she said.