Quick analysis of ‘black greed’ isn’t legitimate

Molemo "Jub Jub" Maarohanye's story ("The life and trial of a South African child star", December 21 2012 to January 3 2013) is certainly a tragic one about the precariousness of African success after apartheid. In that spirit, I appreciate that the Mail & Guardian allocated space for Bongani Madondo to retell Maarohanye's tale.

However, I find his analysis less satisfying. Starting with a talent that found rare luck in the 1990s (especially for a black South African child), becoming a child TV star and later a musician, Madondo focuses on "black greed" and "commies feasting on caviar" in a manner that suggests that Maarohanye's lifestyle expresses a broader pattern of the newly black elite trading in revolutionary ideals of the struggle for conspicuous consumption.

There is much that is unsatisfying about such a quick analysis. For instance, is the problem with the consumption or with the fact that it is conspicuous? Would it be better if the new black bourgeoisie consumed more elegantly, with the refinement of old (that is, white) Cape Town or Houghton wealth? If the problem is with consumption, it is unwarranted and righteous to expect the descendants of generations of Africans who suffered tremendously to tighten their belts and to live modestly – as though lifestyles characterised by careful consumption are closer to an authentically revolutionary or progressive position.

Such complaints about black conspicuous consumption are common among white South Africans. Even when offered by self-defined "lefties", such as complaints about the number of luxury cars at Mangaung, such statements seem to be about old wealth disciplining new wealth on how to spend their money. Without knowing him personally, it is surprising that Madondo should ally himself with such reactionary claims. A more productive analysis would chart the fragility of new black wealth (in both objective and subjective dimensions, and despite black economic empowerment) rather than offer moral outrage at some of its ostentatious expressions. – Bernard Dubbeld, Cape Town

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