Marketing students learn about Izikhothane: A unique South African subculture

Posted on August 06, 2020

One of the important external factors in studying consumer behaviour includes the study of consumer culture and subcultures. The various cultures and subcultures to which consumers belong significantly influence the consumer decision-making process. Cultures influence the types of products and services bought and consumed on a daily basis. It is thus important to consider cultures to better understand and predict intentions and behaviours of a target market. It is commonly known that South Africa is a country rich in cultural diversity. However, there is also a range of subcultures that exist, many of which are unheard of among South Africans themselves. Some of these include the Smarteez and Izikhothane subcultures. 
On 19 and 20 February 2020, while contact classes were still in session, the second-year Marketing Management students were privileged to have Dr Liezl-Marie van der Westhuizen as a guest lecturer in their Consumer Behaviour module. Dr van der Westhuizen is an established researcher in consumer behaviour and has done extensive research into the South African culture of Izikhotane, also often referred to as Skothaneism. The Marketing students were fascinated to learn about some of the practices of this South African subculture. 
Dr van der Westhuizen explained how Izikhotane is a brand-inspired subculture, which primarily consists of young adult black males from Soweto in South Africa, who organise themselves into “crews.” Despite being considered to derive from low income families, they consume and destroy luxury brands in their pursuit and construction of consumer fame. Some of the top Izikhothane brands include brands such as Arbiter, Carvela and Rossimoda (shoes); Sfarzo (pants) and DMD (shirts and hats). 
The purpose of the research conducted by Dr van der Westhuizen, together with Profs Robin Coulter from the University of Connecticut and Kelly Martin from Colorado State University, was to understand real-world phenomena and the lived experiences through the eyes of the Izikhothane subculture. In-depth interviews and focus groups conducted revealed that fame was the underlying motive behind Izikhothane behaviour. 
Succinctly stated by a respondent in the study, Izikhothane “…is about wearing clothes, dancing in them, flaunting your clothes, getting noticed, and attaining fame. What we do is we wear attention-seeking clothes, clothes that put us in the spotlight and that is how we attain the fame.” These battles, as they are referred to, are about showing off to others what they have. Members of this subculture give themselves personal nicknames such as Casa Di, (i.e., in reference to Casa Di Arbiter, the Izikhothane-adopted luxury Italian brand) and Shuntra Montra, which is Italian for a charmer. They also have various crew names to:
• flaunt their wealth and affluence (for example, Legendary Money Spenders, Material Boys); 
• show their desires for dominance and showmanship (for example, Real Kings of Soweto, United Legends); and 
• evoke images of danger (for example, Iraq 11 and 3000 Volts). 
The members of the crew also have certain role performances within their crew, such as the provocateur, dancer, logistician, leader and financial manager. 
An interesting aspect highlighted by another of the respondents was that the Izikothane subculture has been around for many years: “The basic Izikhothane lifestyle has always been there, we just came in and made it extreme. We had uncles that would wear linen [suits] and they would be parading in front of you. The uncle would pull out his linen and silk shirt together with his gold chains; that’s where we adapted the whole thing.” 
The students thoroughly enjoyed the presentation by Dr Van der Westhuizen and commented that it broadened their insights into South African consumer subcultures. 
The image represents a typical Izikkhotane subculture crew in Soweto, South Africa. 
- Author Department of Marketing Management
Published by Liesl Oosthuizen

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