What is “Ukukhotana”? Loosely translated, “ukukhothana” means to lick. “Ukukhothana” is a controversial new subculture created by youth in townships in and surrounding Johannesburg where they organize in fashionably-dressed cliques called izikhothane and set up mock battles to brag about who wears the most expensive designer labels, has the most money, and all-around swag. Kinda sounds like hip hop, right?

Izikhothane are expected to go to extremes to show their swag — anything from burning a pair of brand new designer shoes or wads of cash. The reward is fame. Fame in the neighborhood..fame in the izikhothane culture.

Writes Jamal Nxedlana over at Cuss Mag:

Ukukhothana is to engage in a bragging-battle. Fashion is the predominant system, on which the culture is based, and it is the various symbols of Skhothane fashion (popular clothing, alcohol, food, dance and language) that are used as means of distinction in battles. It is all about what you have and how much it’s worth. “MaThousand” a member of Soweto based crew “Amashisa Ova” says that Ukukhothana is “bragging, it is about showing the other person that you are better than them”.

To put this current phenomenon in more context you only have to look back to the Swenkas, a group of working-class Zulu men who took part in amateur competitions that were part fashion show part choreography, with the purpose of “displaying ones style and sense of attitude”. The similarities between Swenking and Ubkhothane are remarkable. Like Swenking, Ukukhothana is competitive it is a spectacle involving performance and dance, and in both cultures flashy clothing is one of the main symbols of distinction.”

While some view the culture as artistic expression, many, like veteran journalist Deborah Patta see it as disturbing. On her current affairs show, 3rd Degree, Patta referred to the culture as “bling trend.” Watch her investigation below:

I'm never one to diss any youth culture without investigation, and a fair amount of compassion for the message it is attempting to convey. But when it comes to izikhothane, I have to admit I'm torn. On the one hand, I applaud these kids for their swag and modern take on a familiar cultural practice — before the izikhothane, there were the Pantsulas, before them the swankers – both South African subcultures rooted in bragging rights. Outside of South Africa, the are the sapuers of the Congo.

I get it; they're having fun, they're celebrating stylen and creating new artforms in the process.

The only difference I see here is, unlike the sapuers, for example, who are often men seemingly able to work and pay for their designer suits, the izikhothane tend to be teenagers, which means parents are footing the bills (watch this 3rd Degree segment of a grandmother lamenting the loss of her grandson who allegedly committed suicide because she could no longer afford to pay for his lifestyle). Sure, it's lazy of me to bring up the fact that izikhothane often come from impoverished communities (the same applies to my flashy name-brand wearing Brooklyn neighbors), there's just something about watching a kid burn a R1500 (approx $180) pair of shoes that is both thrilling in an artistic sense (it is really performance art), and bothersome at the same time.

Is the lifestyle fair to their parents? No. Is it fair to criticize the izikhothane while giving a pass to middle-class Black South African youth who also spend their parent's money recklessly? Not at all.

Concludes Jamal:

“Whether people like it or not, Ubkhothane is extremely popular amongst youth exposed to it…I personally don’t agree with every part of the culture but there are definitely some very interesting aspects of Ubkhothane. Aspects, which contribute new aesthetics to art and culture in South Africa and the world.”

Read his full piece, here.