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Vanity Slavery

AUTHOR: Ntshala Mahase

PUBLISHER: FunDza Literacy Trust

LANGUAGE: English

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Given our history as black South Africans, of deprivation and lack imposed to us for centuries, certain practices are inevitable. However we’ve done little to minimise the impact of these practices. Instead we’ve, for the past few years, exacerbated them. One such practice is vanity slavery; self-imposed vanity slavery.

Our history teaches that ever since the colonisers touched on our shores our blackness has always been used as a tool to mark us out as subservient beings, economically and otherwise. At the forefront of this phenomenon was, and still is, the economic standpoint in which colonialism was premised. Land was taken away from black people through various colonial laws. Spatial apartheid arrangements then entrenched this deprivation and lack.

Townships were then designed as spaces in which black people were to exist as worthless bodies that are removed from economic spaces which are suburbs and inner cities. These spaces were designed for black people to kill one another and idle. The legacies of such arrangements are seen as unemployment in such spaces is sky high. Crime and gangsterism is the reality for most who dwell in such spaces.

Before one looks any further for quick solutions and start pointing fingers in wrong directions, one needs to look back on what exactly is the root cause of such unemployment among the youth in this area and across the whole country. Up until 1994, numerous market distortions, which among other meant economic exclusion of people based on their skin colour and race, were caused by industrial and social policies of Apartheid government.

With much of these distortions remaining evident in South Africa today. Industrialisation induced an uncompetitive capital intensive economy, from which the majority of South Africans were excluded by a way of racial spatial policy and other discriminatory measures.

Other social ills of the olden days including educational exclusion of blacks from certain major economic sectors of our country such as engineering, medicine and law meant that blacks could only be hired as unskilled workers. This also contributed to the high unemployment rate in this part of the country. With this being said one can then see the level of lack and deprivation for most black people.

The abstract vague definition of vanity is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness that is normally referred to as being inordinately vain; being far more proud of one’s good looks than normally expected. Historically the term didn’t have narcissistic undertones it is associated with of late. It merely meant futility.

It is, however, now often seen as synonymous to vainglory – boasting in vain.
In modern sense such concept is seen as a form of self-idolatry. Philosophically speaking, vanity may refer to a broader sense of egoism and pride. An inflated opinion of one’s personal, intellectual, social and other overestimations. This is what I refer to as inflated individualism.

It is against this definition of vanity and historical background of black people that I diagnose the spending habits of the black middle class. The concept that comes to the fore is that of conspicuous consumption. It basically means the spending of money on and acquiring of luxury goods and services to display economic power. The aim is to either attain or maintain a given social status.

The fact that black people have always watched from the fringes as white people indulged in luxury they could only hope to see themselves in white people’s shoes. That’s why when a black person gets a little bit of money they seek to overcompensate on their level of expenses.

This behaviour is responsible for the looting of money by African leaders; leaders such as Campore and Mobuto. Once in power they want to loot as much money as possible to enrich themselves and their families. This need to overcompensate is responsible for the lack of black economic power. As soon as black people earn peanuts from white people they take the very same money and reinvest it in white capital. This practice makes the dream of establishing black economics impossible. It is this concept that is responsible for the deviant practices such as Skhothanis in most townships.

Unlike most systems of slavery and subjugation, this is the practice that we as black people impose on ourselves.

We are responsible for making whites richer and then we complain about how privileged they are. Of course taking
into cognisance the fact that their wealth was accumulated unjustly and they are products of generational wealth emanating from injustices of apartheid.

However if we are to build our economy as black people and compete with white monopoly capital, is it of paramount importance that we rid ourselves of practices such as being slaves to white brands and labels. We need to put on hold the practices of queueing in white stores buying expensive white products.

It would be absurd to believe that those who died for the liberation of our country died for us to sit on the masters table, become new masters, while the vast majority of black people are still lingering in abject poverty.

For us to create an elitist diamond class and perpetuate injustice in the quest of joining whites on the table and dine and wine with them. They also didn’t die for us to become mere workers to whites and not own our corporations as we feel the need to continue spending our money on our neo-colonial masters.

It’s high time we take charge of our economy and build black economic class that produces instead of consuming.

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