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.

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