By: Gcobani Qambela (a Graduate student at Rhodes University, reading Joint Honours in Anthropology and Politics and International Studies)
Monday the 8th of March 2010 is not a date that will easily be forgotten in the history of South Africa. This is the day that four teenage boys tragically lost their lives on their way back from school in Soweto, South Africa’s largest township. The four boys were hit by a mini-cooper after a drag race went horribly wrong causing a crash on one of Soweto’s busiest roads and killing the boys instantly.
One of the drivers of the two mini-coopers involved in the deadly dice is allegedly infamous South African rapper-turned-gospel star Molemo Maarohanye, more popularly known as “Jub-Jub.” Shock and anger immediately gripped the nation mourning the loss of four young lives, with two more young lives still in critical condition at the Baragwanath hospital in Johannesburg at the time of publication of this paper.
The focal point of the South African media has ever since then been on the trial of Maarohanye, following each and every protest and outcry resulting out of the catastrophic drag race. The media reports have however largely channeled all the focus on the consequences of the accident and hardly any regard has been dedicated to uprooting the cause of the accident.
By “cause” I am not referring to the material causes of the accident (i.e. the level of intoxication, driving on the wrong side of the road, driving above the prescribed speed limit, etc). When I talk of “causes” I am referring to the cultural rearing that allowed Maarohanye and his friend to drag race in broad daylight in a very busy township street and not practice any form of self-restraint.
This paper argues that drag racing in South African townships amongst black male youth is a convoluted phenomenon with a very long and complex history that is inextricably linked with the black male’s assertion of masculinity.
While acknowledging that the two drivers were no doubt reckless in their conduct and that the law ought to takes its course, the paper argues that the two drivers were victims of cultural norms accumulated (consciously or unconsciously) through time.
I contend that while it might seem logical to shun upon “Jub Jub” for the crash, I argue that this serves no one any good, especially the youth in South African townships. I contend that to move forward and prevent another disastrous accident like this one from occurring, black South African male youth in South Africa’s townships need to reconstruct their perceptions of masculinity and do away with ambivalent and hegemonic masculinities that are no longer in line with the boni mores of South African society.
The connection between high risk behaviors such as drag racing among black males in South Africa’s townships as a performance of masculinity is still a largely unexplored area in both academe and the media in South Africa. Most of the studies undertaken focus primarily on high risk behavior among male youth related to sex, HIV/Aids and gender violence.
Drag racing became popular in most of South Africa’s townships in the mid-1970’s and has since formed an essential part of the assertion of masculinity by most male township youth. The young men partaking in drag racing want to show off their masculinity, both to other men and females. They want to be seen as dangerous and “cool” by the society for which they ’perform’ their masculinity for. Young men who master this dangerous race are treated with respect by their community, and with much admiration by most youth and are often allowed entry into territories that are normally reserved for “men“ only.
Drag racing in most South African townships is thus not merely as simplistic as two young men racing irresponsibly, but there is also an important and critical cultural dynamic involved in partaking in the race which media reports have failed to take into account.
The only peculiar thing about “Jub-Jub’s” accident is that it involved an infamous personality in the South African entertainment industry. There have been countless other reports in the past of South African township youth who kill many people while drag racing (especially on Matriculation farewell parties towards the end of each year) and yet no proper research has been done to uncover the causes as to why drag racing persists despite its highly fatal nature.
While it is tragic that it had to take four young lives and an infamous celebrity to bring the drag racing practice in South African townships to the fore. I conclude that this awful accident should allow South African youth in the townships a chance to reflect on whether this ambivalent race should still be continued in South African townships or not, even though it is no longer in line with contemporary South African mores which now place the utmost importance on human life.
“Jub Jub”, I thus contend, was a victim of his socialization in South African townships. He is a victim of the principles collected from his childhood and youth in Soweto that to be a “man” one must be able to engage in high risk and dangerous activities like drag racing. While I do believe that he and his friend should be punished accordingly as the law provisions for the consequences of their masculine performance.
It is still important that we keep in mind that what happened was an accident and that his intention was not to kill those four young boys; but rather like most township youth he was engaged in an highly dangerous and deadly act of masculine performance that is perfectly acceptable in most South African townships.
Male South African youth in South Africa’s townships thus need to reflect on the practices that they use to constitute their masculinity and determine whether or not such practices have any place at all in present day South Africa. The South African Department of Social Development needs to play a key role in informing the youth in South Africa’s townships about alternative ways of asserting masculinity in non harmful ways.