In the last two decades, South Africa has seen the documentation of various subcultures; many of which have existed before they were documented. Many of these subcultures, unable to conform to or identify with dominant and commercial culture, create and represent minority or divergent ideologies and identities most observable through music, fashion and language.
Perhaps one of the oldest and most prominent subcultures in South Africa is Amapantsula. Although once being associated with township gangsters, suited up in order to remain inconspicuous in city centres while they phanda’d, these days amapantsula are most known for their style of dance – pantsula dance.
Pantsula dance, which is distinguishable by rapid and rhythmic footwork (often performed in groups), gained international popularity after a Mozambican duo appeared in singer Beyonce Knowles’ music video “Run the World (Girls)”. It comes as no surprise that pantsula dance, although primarily a form of self-expression, has provided township youth (such as those part of the Indigenous Dance Academy) economic opportunities – much like amapantsula that came before the pantsula dance as we know it today.
In contrast, one of the newest and most controversial post-Apartheid subcultures influenced by the swenkas and pantsulas are the Izikhotane or the Skhotanes. Meaning ‘to lick’ or ‘to boast’, Izikhotane became fodder for public criticism after Third Degree featured township battlles.
Thokozane “Zane” Billy who joined the movement in 2007 explained its roots and its current status. “The culture started in the mines and came strongly in 2005. The key of being in the culture is living in the future and vele setting the pace for others.
We would arrange trips, book taxis with loud sound, go to a park and then set a battle dance, tear clothes and all that. I’m in love with Italian wear. I just want to dress to kill and not be worried about what the community will say.”
Generally dismissed as a pseudo-culture and adolescent nihilism, much of the coverage and conversation centred on the bizarreness of the culture without further interrogating or contextualising the culture. Little has been said about the current status of the culture, with some pointing to culture related suicides and police clampdowns as the reasons the culture has lost its popularity.
"Now the movement is taking another route whereby we love fashion and we say things have changed. Never mind where I’m from, this aint a career. It’s a movement. We enjoy it and we love it. I think people or the community should look deep into it. I am now a boilermaker assistant.
There’s nothing I would say to someone younger than me apart from study hard, break that chain of “I’m from a poor family”. I believe if at your household there’s not television it’s not your fault. You got your own way to pave and shape.”
The culture has certainly made an impression on society. They are unlikely brand ambassadors, stylists, and social media marketers who make their aspirations a reality. They sparked conversations about modern day excessiveness, conspicuous consumption and the policing of the
poor. And for some it certainly held up a mirror society – as all subcultures do – making us question how something so supposedly vulgar could be birthed from our own society.
“In the black society we did something, which was totally different… wearing expensive clothes. Such people were expected to be or are people who grew up in town or cities but now it became local, deep in the heart of the township.”
Despite the decline in the performative acts associated with Izikhotane, the culture exists and remains a representation of the people that made it – in a state transition as it sheds the excessive exuberance of its youth and sobers up to the reality of the living beyond today
Creative Direction: Phendu Kuta
Photography: Obakeng Molepe
Photography Assistant: Sesona Mahlahla
Writing: Fatima Mathivha