Tables of silver ice buckets filled with the finest top-shelf liquor: Bottles of Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades, Louis Roederer Cristal and Veuve Clicquot are standard features at the best clubs and trendiest hang-out spots, but they are for snaps only – then they’re all getting sent back.  

On Friday March 27, 2020, the party nation of South Africa put away the sparklers. Speakers were unplugged as we closed our doors and retreated to the safety of our homes in hopes of managing the covid-19 pandemic.  

Wits film student Lemi Mwaniki (22) saw herself deprived of the social interactions her sociable personality relies on. As lockdown restrictions were greatly eased in the last four months of 2020 and some semblance of normalcy appeared, Lemi found herself going slightly overboard with her savings. The uncertain times made her feel the exorbitant spending was worth it.   

“Sometimes when you are out it’s hard to be disciplined with your money; it just happens, and then you go home with R5 in your account”

The months of hard lockdown taught a valuable lesson: Make the most of the time you have outside. The idea that you need to go all out because you never know when it will be taken away, at the announcement of an adjusted lockdown level, may have been the origin of “photo dumps”.  

Upon opening your social media platform of choice, you will undoubtedly be met with a compilation of photos from a particular event or, more commonly, a monthly visual wrap-up of activities and outings. This is known as a ‘‘photo dump’’. They are often laden with the most Instagram-able pictures of secret mansion parties, brochure-worthy beach vacations and lavish lunch dates. As a result of this, there is a new idea of what the ultimate Gen-Z looks like: Someone who goes to the right places with the right people wearing the right things.  

To chronicle her visit to Sandton City mall, Karabo Wessie makes sure that she captures an image of the Michelangelo Hotel. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

The basic cost of living, from bread to casual labour work, has increased due to covid-19 and many young South Africans are still financially dependent on their parents, who have been retrenched or had their salaries reduced. We all want to make up for the social time we lost during hard lockdown, but how can we do that and also embody ideas of what a young person in 2021 looks like, when there is no money to do that? 

FOMO gets Konka-ed (excess, ego and Instagram)  

Lamborghinis, Porsches, Bentleys and Aston Martins line the entrance of Konka Soweto, dubbed the millionaire’s playground. The pub has been a trending topic on Twitter, giving fair warning that Konka is for those with pockets deep enough to handle the menu prices and exorbitant bill totals.  

The Michelangelo Hotel that will no doubt make its way into Karabo Wessie’s photo dump, inspires ideas of luxury and wealth. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

As an avid club patron, Favour Ogunlade (22) has noted many instances of fellow patrons overextending themselves in the VIP section of Johannesburg’s hottest hot spots. “Club lifestyle is all about outdoing each other,” she says. Most male patrons will spend themselves into debt at the club, but they do not have furniture or their rent paid for the month.  

Tshepiso Moaki* (21), a waitress at a popular club in Johannesburg, tells Wits Vuvuzela that many of the people boasting the most expensive drinks in their section have agreements with club management. Other patrons see this and want to try to keep up, to show everyone who the big man on campus is. Moaki says bills often reach R25 000 in a night, but if there is a good relationship in place patrons can pay off their bills in instalments. Moaki mentions that unassuming patrons do not know this and end up in debt to the club.  

Ogunlade and Moaki both say patrons can even ‘‘rent’’ bottles for the night. For example, of 13 bottles of Ace of Spades, seven of Cristal and 10 of Veuve, they will be allowed to drink only 10 of the 30 bottles. The rest will be returned. This courtesy is extended only to patrons who have a good relationship with management or owners, but even some of the country’s most loved celebrities make use of the limited feature.  

University of Cape Town student Keke Leeuw (21) says friends, to fund their Cape Town lifestyle, have even de-registered from university yet still told their unsuspecting parents to deposit their tuition in their bank account. In this regard boat parties, expensive drinks, transport, clubs and dinner at the newest place at which to be seen are better than education.  

Despite what it looks like on social media, money is in small and short supply for many young people like Bimpe Ojetimi. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

Mwaniki, who gets an allowance from her parents in addition to a small stipend from her bursary, jokes that she once used a portion of her stipend on a night out: “Sometimes when you are out it’s hard to be disciplined with your money; it just happens, and then you go home with R5 in your account.”

According to a Briefly article, a Gucci store in Cape Town was ridiculed on TikTok by user Avril Albetti for allegedly selling empty bags to customers for social media purposes. The video shows a Gucci employee selling a customer a bunch of empty bags before she leaves the store.  

Companies recognise the power of their brands and what people will do to make it look as if they possess them. An employee at Christian Dior in Sandton City says employees are not allowed to sell only packaging to customers. They have apparently never been asked to do so. A Nike store employee told Wits Vuvuzela, however, that customers have asked to buy boxes and other packaging but the store is not allowed to sell them, even if they are about to be thrown away.  

Content creators, influencers better than a marketing team 

The followers of social media influencers such as Bimpe Ojetimi (21) and content creators like Thato Rampedi (25) are exposed to a carefully curated idea of their lives. Dr Venter de Villiers, senior lecturer and head of marketing at the School of Business Sciences at Wits, says young people tend to compare themselves to what they see on social media.  

This can result in many falling into the trap of social comparison and, regardless of financial position, consequently buying expensive products that are not affordable. 

“I think we are still in that materialism frame of mind where we think that what we wear and own defines us. [A certain item] is seen by society as a status item and reflects one’s [level of success],” says De Villiers. The idea of living a certain glamorous life is promoted by such images as the distinct cobalt blue and white bottles of Clase Azul tequila; the 6.7-inch iPhone 13 Pro Max in Sierra Blue; and ornate green Gucci paper bags that never seem in short supply.  

Rampedi is a digital content creator on YouTube with about 120 000 subscribers. He was named as a #YouTube Black Voices fund recipient earlier this year.  

Even at a birthday party of a close friend Tanya Matismbe has to get some snaps for the ‘gram’ in order to promote the bathing suit she is wearing. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

In October Thato celebrated reaching 100 000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. The affair, which took place at a stylish Instagram-worthy AirBnb mansion, was documented vlog style and published on the channel. The video was sponsored by beverage company Topo Chico, with a promotions bar and bartenders supplying the drinks. The guest list included fellow South African YouTubers Naledi Mallela and Neo Rapetsoa, close friends and family. In addition to the cooler boxes of beverages, content also punted stacks of Hennessy boxes.  

The video, while wholesome, might be a perfect example of social media standards. Rampedi’s subscribers, and those of other content creators, see what they do and then that  ‘‘sbwl’’ feeling creeps in.  

South Africans prominent on social media often set the standards many less followed and less subscribed-to citizens struggle to attain: We forget or fail to consider the ‘‘job’’ aspect of content creation.  

The nation’s unemployment rate stands at 34.4%. Youth unemployment, at 64.4% for those aged between 15 and 24 years, is often chalked up to lack of work experience. In reaction, many young people turn to creating an income for themselves in the lucrative digital space.  

Favourite social media influencers and YouTubers are paid to advertise certain products or experiences: Topo Chico’s presence at Rampedi’s celebration was a mutually beneficial agreement between both parties, just like your presence at work would be.  

De Villiers notes that because social media allow global connection, they reach a much larger audience; because of this, brands pick content creators with large followings. Influencer marketing plays a significant role in consumer decision-making. This form of marketing is more cost-effective, customer feedback is virtually immediate and market research expenditure decreases dramatically. Influencer campaigns and sponsorships are lucrative money-making machines not just for brands, but for influencers too.  

Bimpe Ojetimi gives her followers and subscribers a fully curated haul of clothing items sent to her by a clothing brand. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

Lower costs result in larger marketing budgets, allowing greater incentives for influencers. Social media manager and influencer Bimpe Ojetimi (21) has done campaigns for ZARA, Red Bull, African Extracts and a number of smaller clothing brands and thrift stores. Model and digital creator Mandla Koyabe (21) has done campaigns for Cotton On, Skoon Skin, Nivea Men and Reebok. Brands send them products, gift cards and event invitations to use for creating social media posts. Influencer campaigns can result in a minimum pay-out of R1 000, on top of the products and perks set aside for a particular campaign. 

Social media, though, create more issues for the finances of young South Africans: issues that extend much further than just asking for an early allowance pay-out.  

Mwaniki is friendly with people who are very present on social media, and she must often remind herself to not compare herself to them. She admits it is difficult at times, knowing one does not fit the mould of social media standards. But her peers will brave depression, debt, loan repayments and monthly instalments all in an attempt, inevitably failing, to keep up with the Thatos, Bimpes and Mandlas. 

The damaging effects of bad financial literacy  

Many South African families live from pay cheque to pay cheque, according to financial content creator Nicolette “Financial Bunny” Mashile. “We have been socialised to believe we are bad at money, but you cannot be bad at something you’ve never been taught,” Mashile says. Financial literacy is not a strong point in South Africa and the lack thereof inhibits the will to save.  

Kiara Hunter’s intimate birthday celebration at her parents’ home is not complete without donning a few items of her best jewellery pieces. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

Honours student Lele Mosimane (22) says that, growing up with an allowance, she learned that the money you get for a month is all you get: “If you spend it all, that’s that until the next month.” She believes she has carried this philosophy into how she uses her salary. 

In a BusinessTech article, statistics from the National Credit Regulator (NCR) indicated that 84% of South Africans earning a minimum of R15 000 a month have some form of debt, from unsecured loans to credit cards. Deloitte’s 2021 consumer survey disclosed that 70% of South Africans spend all their monthly income.  

According to the 2017 report of the Human Sciences Research Council, 48% of South Africans do not save at all, while 42% possess no long-term savings of any kind. By global standards, South Africa’s savings rate is catastrophically low at less than 15% in 2019, well below the global average of 25.1%.  

This pair of black Balenciaga Triple S sneakers worn by Mike Kawonde retail at about R17 000. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

Citizens of the so-called “groove country” would rather blow their savings and pay on a night out than anything else.  

De Villiers says spending money creates a feeling of euphoria.  People experience a sense of pleasure and excitement due to the dopamine released by spending. If the purchase is of a really expensive product, there might be a brief feeling of slight anxiety when the consumer processes that they have just spent R2 000 on a handbag or R13 000 on a bottle of Ace of Spades. A typical customer then uses justification strategies to erase the anxiety and embrace the new luxury item.


How to become a financially clued-up super saver  

In an article for FA News, Mutoda Mahamba, CEO and founder of insurance company Solvency, notes that there are tools available for young people to break the negative financial cycle they find themselves trapped in. “It is up to us as a society to make sure our youth understand how the new digital world can help them make choices that weren’t possible before,” Mahamba concludes.  

It is clear that young South Africans need to be playing to their strength in understanding how to use ICTs, and educate themselves on financial literacy as well as self-control and restraint.  

*Alias created for interviewee who asked to remain anonymous. 


FEATURED IMAGE: Social media influencer, Bimpe Ojetimi takes to her clothing haul vlog like an artist before creating a masterpiece. Photo: Kemiso Wessie