Ashish Sewgoolam
Ashish Sewgoolam

SA’s deeply flawed young middle class

Almost 20 years after South Africa’s miraculous democratic transformation, we, the young “middle-class”, find ourselves to be the emerging leaders of this nation, and in a somewhat of a rut.

Black, white, coloured, Indian it doesn’t matter. Race isn’t the discriminating factor as it was all those years ago. We have either grown up with each other as neighbours or gone to school or university together, and have probably worked together.

We may have different appearances but we all go out to the same trendy places or to each other’s houses to watch globalised sport, drink international beer and braai, because that’s our “heritage”. We Instagram our meals and tweet our #Firstwordproblems. Different appearances, but from a lifestyle and life-stage point of view we are remarkably similar.

We are children of a generation that endured very different lives to us – children of parents that have worked hard for many years through the nightmare of Apartheid to achieve a comfortable life.

Above all else, they didn’t want their children to go through the hardships they experienced growing up. They wanted this so badly that their children were often brought up being told that they have nothing to worry about. Having had a better life experience than their own parents, our generation’s parents have raised us to believe that the world is one of unbounded possibility and optimism.

This added to all of the “positive reinforcement” children nowadays receive in school, one is brought up to believe that they are special and are the leading star in their very own story.

The problem however, is that if everybody is brought up to believe that there is nothing to worry about, that the world is one of unbounded possibility and that everyone is special, then the reality is that none of us are as special as we’ve been brought up to believe we are.

In fact, we’re all equally deluded and have inherited the common trait of an inflated sense of self.

As a result of our upbringing, we have been moulded into a generation that has to prove ourselves and our “specialness”. This has made us narcissistic megalomaniacs who believe that money, a numerical measure, is the way to prove one’s worth and that success is determined by one’s propensity to buy branded clothes, fancy cars and expensive drinks.

There’s a deeper reason to all this spending too. See, we’ve been led to believe that we’re destined for great things and that the world is our oyster. When we were in school, we were told that we could be anything we wanted to be.

Life is a great leveler though and one’s reality is often different to the grand expectations we were encouraged to dream of as children. How do we deal with this? Get depressed? No, we much prefer denial because we’re too special to get depressed. We go out and project ourselves publicly in a way that shows off where we expected to be and not where we currently are.

If you’re reading this thinking that it’s hogwash, go out on any night between Thursday and Sunday in Jo’burg, Cape Town and Umhlanga and you’ll see first-hand evidence of all of the above and that we find solace with each other.

So there you have it. South Africa’s young middle-class: a generation characterised by feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose, quelled by a need for instant gratification. A generation that didn’t learn how to fend for themselves and be responsible, but instead keep moving from one thing, place, or person to another in the pursuit of happiness.

We are a generation of young middle-class hedonists who spend excessively to make up for shortcomings in our own expectations. We will be your future leaders.

Tags: , , ,

  • The Place of Sara Baartman at UCT
  • It is time
  • Pauw’s revelations and democracy
  • The truth about Nkandla
    • Heinrich

      Exactly. We need transformation based on quality.

    • laissez faire

      Unusual viewpoint and somewhat subjective. As much as you express universal and contemporary sentiments, I’m still thinking: you are hugely privileged. As a South African you should step up to the plate and make a difference. Be the change that you want to see! Living in South Africa might not be a laugh a minute, so many have so little. It is presently however an open market with huge economic prospects for the quick and creative.
      But then perhaps this is not your world. You could always go on a spiritual Eat, Pray, Love kind of journey. Nothing wrong with that either, South Africans need healing and stress relief like everybody else. There too lies a huge gap in the market.
      Either way you’ll figure it out, it’s called growing up. Keep us posted!

    • Daniel Berti

      Ashish Sewgoolam AKA Tyler Durden :)
      Nice article.

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      @Daniel “We’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world” 😀

    • Marogoro

      I am not sure if I agree with your analysis. Firstly your view of the world appears to reflect subjective opinions of a particular upbringing. I would even think you are referring to an upper middle class that has access to all those things you are referring to. I don’t believe what you have posited is a generalised reflection of an African middle class. Instead of Umhlanga, Joburg or Cape Town, perhaps you need to get in touch with the realities of the majority of the middle class families in Mdantsane, Soweto, Mbombela, Eshowe, Mafikeng, Seshego, Mangaung and Jouberton. These middle class don’t experience first world problems as you theorised, they don’t go to trendy upmarket places as you suggest, and don’t go to white or Indian people’s houses.

      Perhaps the upper middle class in our society have access to all the excesses you refer to including quality multiracial education that instil a sense of individualism. Being part of a global village and subscribing to universal values is a generalisation in a South African context.

    • http://N/A Sally

      Very sensible young man – sadly so. The current leadership is appalling – how concerning it is to think that the next layer will be the same, but from a different perspective. It’s universal, yes, but also specifically South African. Ah me – woe is the future of the world.

    • Kreef

      How refreshing to read something so honest and where race is not thing underlying theme . This is not only true for SA but globally . Materialism and the me , myself and I generation is the norm now .

    • Travesty

      At last an honest look at one of the roots of the problem. Well done.

    • Nicole

      Hmm, the youth of today….

      Good article. While I don’t necessarily agree that the response of denial is quite this common, I do think that built-up expectations and a sense of entitlement from being told “you are special, you can be anything you want to be if you just want it hard enough” is not healthy. It can make for quite a let down a bit later on in life!

      Should we expect to be happy all of the time? Should our working lives be glamorous and far removed from the banal drudge of the everyday? Do we get to have it all? Why are we not famous/rich/over-achieving geniuses by age 25? Why, why, why?

      I feel a tantrum coming on….

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      @Marogoro the middle class is a broad term but the sentiment still holds. They may not have access to the same things as those in Sandton, Cape Town and Umnhlanga but Izikhothane (young, middle class, from the township) are tearing and throwing away R100 notes, burning expensive designer clothing, deliberately spilling expensive liquor… if anything, it’s even worse in the townships.

    • Phathisani

      I understand your point of view, it’s interesting and correct. I have one thing to say to this, it’s not limited to parents and teachers, media has a great influence on the meaning of wealth, we see it daily in movies, music videos and magazines. Our adverts also inspire the youth into seeing their value in that light. Having said that, that picture we have of ourselves is not false at all, all it needs is direction. I believe I am worth all I wear, eat, drink and enjoy. It’s not a view that just popped up for the first time in the world, the romans, greeks, english, even africans lived the kind of lives the middle class live today, with less technology though.

      I only see this as an issue if we continue with an employee mentality and don’t break into the entrepreneur mindset that will allow for continued consumption. Our imports outweigh our exports by far because we have been programmed to be consumers more than producers. I say forget savings, reduce consumption and channel the minds of the youth towards production.

    • Ashish Sewgoolam

      @Phathisani I 100% agree on the media influence. Media along with tech that allows us to always access the media and social networks is probably the biggest contributing factor of our generation’s plight at a global level.
      I fear that “entrepreneurship” is fast becoming a buzzword that people are using as an excuse to sit back and “follow their passions” whilst even forgoing education.
      If we are to be an economy focused on production, the first things that need to go are trade unions… but that’s an entire post on its own.

    • Shalona

      Nicely written Ash, but largely a generalisation of our surroundings.