I’khothane is a street slang, derived from the Zulu word ukukhothana, which means “to lick like a snake”. The slang term originally referred to playful competition between various “crews” whose members see themselves as icons of street fashion and kings and queens of the latest dance moves.

This youth craze began on Johannesburg’s East Rand and is now sweeping through the city’s townships. In the early days, in 2008, the craze was simply a South African version of the “dance battles”, popular among young, urban black people in the United States. But now there is nothing playful about ikhothane’s latest incarnation.

These days, such gatherings often culminate in the burning of expensive designers clothes and even money. It is about standing out form the crowd: proving to your mates that you are so rich that expensive possessions mean nothing. It does not stop there sometimes I’khothane also involves the destruction of party food such as KFC, which the dancers stamp into the ground as other kids look on.

The battles are usually held at a local park or other open space. The news of the gatherings is spread by word of mouth and the crews are mobbed by hundreds of admiring children and teenagers as they arrive. It is instant celebrity. To be a member of the group, one should be prepared to wear a pair of shoes like Carvela’s (costing not less than R1200- R2000), S’fazo Couture jeans, Nike, Adidas, Versace etc. In the 1990’s Carvela shoes were admired by everyone in the townships, today you have to be prepared to destroy them in public to show how rich you are.

But not all young people are impressed by this outlook on life. Some regard it as nothing but an attempt to get attention and find acceptance. Some of these kids are not as rich as they claim to be, they stay in four-room houses and live off their grandmother’s pension money.

Parents are also worried about the negative effects of I’khothane claiming that peer pressure plays a role and that these kids are possess by evil spirits. Young kids look up to them and even imitates the way they talk and the dance moves.

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