In an appallingly tragic incident, a Johannesburg man was shot dead last week for his Rolex. A Rolex that turned out to be fake.
There are several things terribly wrong about this story.
First, wearing a Rolex is a risk in our country. Poverty and anger at this legacy of apartheid have stoked crime. By wearing a watch like that, one makes oneself a target. Yet it is a risk people are willing to take to impress their friends and colleagues.
When did we reach a point where it is worth risking ones’ life to appear wealthy? Even worse, when did our society become so competitive that people are prepared to risk their lives to appear wealthier than they are?
Status has become so important to us that our streets and malls are awash with counterfeit merchandise. This has to be bad for us. Every time we put on a fake pair of sneakers, or piece of jewellery or pick up a fake handbag, we are telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough. That we are, in some way, failures.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to afford designer merchandise, but every time we buy a counterfeit item we are telling ourselves that we should be able to afford the real thing. On a daily basis we are damaging our self-esteem and negating our worth. We are telling ourselves that we are not as good as we should be. We are building a world of shame in which to live.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to afford a shirt with a crocodile on the pocket. There are dozens of other outlets that sell other shirts of perfectly acceptable quality. When we wear the fake, we are stealing from those companies and making ourselves feel bad. Which is, ironically, the opposite of what we are supposed to feel when wearing a luxury brand. Wearing a luxury brand is supposed to make us feel good about ourselves. But when we wear a fake we are doing the opposite.
Yet our society has become so materialistic and competitive that we consider this a small price to pay for impressing our peers. How did we end up feeling that material success is the only thing we have to offer the world? That without it we are worthless?
The other thing that this murder tells us is that crime spawned by grotesque inequality is out of control.
This inequality is the evil child of apartheid who was then fed and fattened by the corruption that has crippled the state’s efforts to lift people out of the poverty into which apartheid threw them.
Schools, toilets, textbooks, electricity, job-creation. All of these things should be making people’s lives better. But the lootathon has made sure these efforts are stillborn.
Corruption hurts us all, but it hurts the poor the most. And fuels the crime that blights our streets.
The tragic death of one innocent man for a counterfeit watch may just be one crime statistic among many. But it also tells a tragic story about what is wrong with our society.
John Davenport is the chief creative officer at Havas, an advertising and communications company. These are his own views