Dicing with death in South African townships: “jub jub” and ambivalent hegemonic masculinities among black South African youth

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.

Gcobani Qambela

Gcobani Qambela is a Graduate Student in South Africa with an interest in African masculinities, HIV/AIDS research and public health in general.

17 Responses to Dicing with death in South African townships: “jub jub” and ambivalent hegemonic masculinities among black South African youth

  1. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the author for shedding new light on the “Jub- jub” fiasco. I agree that drag racing is a mark of masculinity in townships and that the communities now have to frown upon a tradition that they once exalted. However on the contrary I do not agree that Jub Jub is a victim of socialization, to say this is to completely exonerate him of actions. Was he influenced by society? No doubt but at the end of the day Jub-Jub is an adult who can appreciate the consequences of his conduct. Society will always influence us in some way but it most certainly does not dictate to us. In my view Jub- Jub had a choice and we as South Africans should spend more time focusing on the real victims did not have the luxury of choice.

  2. This is quite intense. I never really thought of the accident in this manner! But whatever dude, as long as this article is not used as an excuse to save jub jub, he should be punished either way, five lives is nothing to play with

  3. Very insightful article! Whilst I agree that the use of the term 'victim' does not fully grant justice to the intentions of the writer (i think anyway), I do believe that the author fully states that Jub Jub should not be exonerated of his actions. I think the author does argue, extremely well, that Jub Jub is influenced by society, and I dont think there is anyone who is not influenced in one way or the other.
    To Gcobane, this might be a long shot, but what recommendations would you give to the Dept of Social Development in tackling this issue?

  4. I suggest u burn ur degree, go back 2 1st yr take up a philosophy course prbbly ethics n take t 4rm there….lol kiddin

    considern what u have said i believe there where victims yes. 4 of them n their blood dampnd da township soil…drag racing is a township custom i agree… Its true victims r da 1s who died becos of it dat day. what those men r i dnt knw bt victims, certainly nt. As n hypothesis let us cnsder if jub jub had died. Wud he b a victim then ? I say no. Why? Simply becos he took part & engaged in da act… A victim we cn define as 1 who is a separate entity 4rm da main act or does nt participate bt suffers da consequences…. Consider a robber who dies in a hijackng.is he a victim if he dies? Consider foster,terablache n company.r dey victims of apartheid o da black youth of s.a in 80s da tru victims?

    dis arguement jus got served lol lol BAM! ! !

  5. I suggest u burn ur degree, go back 2 1st yr take up a philosophy course prbbly ethics n take t 4rm there….lol kiddin

    considern what u have said i believe there where victims yes. 4 of them n their blood dampnd da township soil…drag racing is a township custom i agree… Its true victims r da 1s who died becos of it dat day. what those men r i dnt knw bt victims, certainly nt. As n hypothesis let us cnsder if jub jub had died. Wud he b a victim then ? I say no. Why? Simply becos he took part & engaged in da act… A victim we cn define as 1 who is a separate entity 4rm da main act or does nt participate bt suffers da consequences…. Consider a robber who dies in a hijackng.is he a victim if he dies? Consider foster,terablache n company.r dey victims of apartheid o da black youth of s.a in 80s da tru victims?

    dis arguement jus got served

  6. i wouldnt say it was insightful. Was it really a historical event in south africa..maybe "historical"in the township where it happened,but certainly a forgettable freak accident..when we talk unforgettable mention xenophobic attacks in south africa nw thats huge,the death of four teenagers in soweto-quite familiar.Does the behaviour of drunken youth really constitute research to be carried out-it doesnt really require money to be spent on determing that this was just a drunken incident-drag racing is the same as camping in the vaal with friends or having a bonfire and someone getting raped-very familiar-its what it is-youth misbehaving-lets nt make it seem sinister by wasting tax payers money on what i deem silly research.thats why it hasnt bn researched its simply youth misbehaving-plenty of referece on that-this is just another example i would even use the word "masculine" in this instance-wrong semantics.
    oh ya and the word intend was overused.
    insightful,not really-very mediocre read.

  7. To Thusego, surely for an accident to be historical does not need the death of multitudes of people. I'm reminded of Nwabisa Ngcukana of the infamous mini-skirt incidents of 2008 in Noord Taxi rank, who as some argued that the harassment of South African women at taxi ranks was a normal occurrence, went against the grain and reported the abusers to the police. What followed was the "Yearlong campaign for women safety in taxi ranks”, which is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Safety and Security in Gauteng, South African Local Government Association, the Gauteng Taxi Council, and the Gauteng National Taxi Alliance. All because of one "freak accident" that involved one woman who did not consider her abuse as forgettable nor as an acceptable norm for South African society. It with this view that I believe in this case of Jub Jub due to his popularity that has brought attention to this matter, the South African government has the urgency to act much like it was done in the case of Ngcukana.

    I don't think we will ever be able to make any progress if we simply categorized such accidents and rape of women as a matter of "drunken youth" as you put it. Is not mostly men who get to drive drunk and kill little boys? Is not your women friend who get raped at the Vaal? how do you then separate that from an assertion of masculinity? Drunken youth surely should involve both women and men, not just men because then that simply proves the author's points. That is men who get to indulge in "drunken youth" freak incidents!

    Lastly, to Mthetho, as much as I understand your point fully. I think the consideration that the author is asking us to make is to think of these incidents as well others as forming a large social problem. You make the example of a robber who dies, i would probably argue that most robbers are themselves victims of poverty. In most cases anyways, South Africa being one of those places where most criminals come from a background of poverty. Despite the fact that most victims of crime are the poor black majority as well. I would not want to compare Jub Jub to Terreblanche, I don't think that would be fair to him.

  8. First of all thank you ALL for the comments! My belief is that we learn more, not when we speak in one voice, but more when we differ, so thank you.

    I will address the comments from the top onwards starting with Anonymous:

    AT Anonymous – I never said that “Jub Jub” should be exonerated for his actions (thank you Bose). That was not the intention of the paper and that is CLEARLY stated in it – that “Jub Jub” should be punished for the consequences of his masculine act!

    I do however argue that we should look beyond the fact that the case involved a celebrity and question why this happens in South African townships, particularly amongst black township youth!

    “Jub Jub” is no doubt old enough to appreciate the consequences of his actions (and no doubt he should). My focus however as stated is on why in the first place he drag raced.

    I am heartbroken about the now five young lives lost in the tragic dice – and that is not something I would likely ‘play’ with.

    All I argue is that for most black youths growing up in the township – drag racing despite its terminal nature is not something that is considered wrong, or frowned upon. And thus for someone like “Jub Jub” who has grown up in an environment where he was taught that it’s “cool” to drag race for it is something that all boys must master to be cool, dangerous and most importantly “men” – it’s not something that they can easily forget all of a sudden when they become “adult’s.”

    No doubt we have choice – but for a young boy growing up in the township where all he socialised to know is that to earn respect and prove his masculinity he has to engage in high risk behaviour; I argue it’s not as clear-cut as you contend.

    Remember that masculinity is always performed and one never reaches a point where they are fully “men” – thus it is always acted out to satisfy the requirements for the hegemonic masculinity (in the township in the case of “jub jub”).

    The boys most definitely did not choose to die! One of them was in matric (Grade 12), and I have this image in my head of four young boys in school uniform, with no doubt endless opportunities open to them, walking on that Soweto street, talking about their dreams for the next year, university, travelling etc and then within seconds to just have them shattered.

    This is why I argue that to prevent another tragic event from stealing the youth that South Africa so desperately needs, its not enough to look at whether “jub jub” was high or not. The drag racing culture needs to be uprooted from the bottom up – starting with the youth itself. They need to be exposed to various ways to assert their masculinity and interact with other males in non-high risk manners (please refer to may reply to Bose below about ways of doung this).

  9. AT BOSE: Thank you, I am glad you found the article insightful. The aim was to get people thinking about this aspect of the township cultural life that is largely ignored (will comment further as to why this needs to be studied on Mtetho and Thusego’s comments.

    Last year (2009) I had a wonderful opportunity to work on a research project which was more on the HIV/Aids side of research among the youth, but will still prove critical to my addressing your question.

    Through this project I had the pleasure of talking and interacting with some NGO’s that were doing wonderful – yet cost effective work with South African youth in most of the Eastern Cape townships, to get the youth off- sex and hence prevent HIV/Aids infection.

    Often than not, people (like Thusego) are quick to complain without thinking; and the first thing that they will complain about is “the tax-payer’s money” while oblivious to the fact that the issue is not one of money in culturally innate issues like performances of masculinity; but rather what is required is TIME and EFFORT on the governments side to actually really engage with the youth!

    But in reverting back to your questions; most of the NGO’s I met were NOT involved in any particularly expensive projects with the youth! One NGO in Port Elizabeth (I obviously cannot publish the name here) actually used soccer and sport to take the children off sex, and back into education.

    The coaches were tactically trained by the NGO also as peer counsellors. So during practice and other sessions, the children had an opportunity to chat with the coaches(s) about various issues around sex and other issues around peer pressure in an informal manner.
    What eventually happened was that all the boys in the various teams formed some form of network with each other to the point that they would support one another with issues around puberty, which also evolved into a school group study – where if one student was good at Math for instance they would help others that were struggling etc

    The boys that have been involved in that program have all gone to do great things; some have even been accepted to study Actuary Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa (which is the most course to get into in South Africa).

    I am telling to story because I would recommend that the department of social development needs to re-introduce the concept of play and education into the youth. Not deadly dices – but sport, community youth choirs, variety shows by-the-youth for the youth, they need to train other unemployed youth in the township as peer-educators (for its easier to talk to peers than other older people); but most importantly south African youth in the townships are still the most under-performing academically; the DoSD needs to foster a culture of learning, a culture of reading among the youth!.

    You have a story as I told you above where the youth have grown up in a township, where it is considered cool for guys to date many girls, have unprotected sex, and engage in other high risk activities to prove themselves to be “men” amongst their peers .

    Yet on the other side, you have a group of boys, who get together for a soccer match every weekend (with the help of the NGO), and through the help of the peer-trained coach – shift the attention away from sex, to focus on their studies, soccer and defy the hegemonic masculinities that tell them that they have to engage in risqué behaviour to become men.

    This might seem simplistic, BUT it works, and I have seen it!

  10. AT Mthetho Dano and Anonymous (2):

    Firstly; I find some aspects of your comment(s) tragically ironic! Considering the substance of your arguments – I find the number of jokes made within it really disturbing.

    They were not appropriate in this instance, where we are talking with FIVE lives (as you so correctly pointed out!) and possible preventative measures to prevent such an event from occurring again! I would have though that in this manner self-restraint would have been practiced to sensitively argue this matter out!!!

    Secondly, I think you need to re-read the paper. I said “Jub Jub” is a victim of his socialisation in the South African townships, NOT of the accident! If he had died drag racing, he would still be a victim of the cultural practice he was involved in (i.e. assertion of his masculinity as prescribed by the hegemonic masculinities in the township).

    You define a victim as “1 who is a separate entity 4rm da main act or does nt participate bt suffers da consequences” and that is EXACLY what I meant by victim. Masculinity is learnt, and I argue that for most of the youth in the township they are not only taught but also the conditions require that THEY participate in dangerous behaviours to prove that they are men – If they do not they are ostracised.

    He is a victim because he DID NOT choose to be socialised the way he was. Like you said drag racing is a custom, and customs/traditions are not easy to escape. That is why it is critical that this issue be taken seriously I argue in the paper (more than you clearly did, it was difficult for me to tease out you key arguments amongst the jokes you had).

    I will not address the question about robbers, racists… because that is NOT the focus of this paper. That is another topic on its own!!!

  11. AT Thusego: Its is no doubt a historic event because for the first time in drag racing history in the township – an ambivalent practice amongst black youth in South Africa is finally being questioned! And like you said it is particularly more historic because the people themselves in the township consider it to be historic, like the youth of Soweto perceived the Sharpville massacre of 21 March 1960 to be a historic event in South Africa’s history (despite the world saying it is not a historic moment); it is historic because of those youth in Soweto who went to court last week protesting and said “enough” – we are losing way to many of our peers to this practice… how you can merely dismiss it as a “forgettable freak accident” is beyond me!

    Secondly the article is NOT about drunken youth! Its about high risk behaviour (like drag-racing) as a performance of masculinity among black township youth! I would further think that five lives is reason enough to investigate! And if you had read my paper clearly, you would have noticed that I said the only thing peculiar about “jub jub” case was that it involved a well-known personality!

    Thirdly, there have been many reported events of township youth who kill many people while partaking in this deadly act of masculine performance. And it SHOULD be studied and un-packed! And as for the cost-issue you talked about (please refer to my reply to Bose). I would really not call research undertaken to uncover the cultural forces behind drag-racing that has taken hundreds of lives “silly-research.”

    I really do not want to focus on the rape example you used, for that is NOT the focus of the paper. But I am disturbed that you would pass off a rape merely as “youth-behaving badly.”

    I think ill-informed people like you are the reason why research into the cultural dynamic’s of drag racing is so critical! Because a lot of people like you merely dismiss this deadly act of masculine performance by males in the township has been for a long time been perpetuated by people like you (often in the form of parents) who merely dismiss it as “boys being boys” or as you contend “youth misbehaving” and yet ironically it is this same misbehaviour that is killing south African youth, who are not informed about alternative ways of performing their masculinity for society in no-harmful ways (again please refer to my comment to Bose).

    And lastly thank you for the comment on language. The aim of the paper was to make it readable, even to the so-called “ordinary-citizen” with the basic of all education. But thank you though, thank you for the feedback!

  12. And lastly, at Siphokazi! I totally agree with you. The paper was not written to be controversial/or academic… but I think when every year we read about stories of youth who cause accidents and kill people in the process, I think we ought to know that there is something wrong.

    And while alcohol, drugs, etc do play a role, I do feel that it is important that the we look beyond the material, and ask why this happens in the townships, particularly amongst men (which was the focus of the paper although women are can also be involved one way or another).

    I think you have rightly stated that there is a “larger social problem” at hand than merely boys misbehaving, or behaving recklessly. And I still contend that both the media (including academe) and the DoSD need to investigate!

  13. Gcobani, I stand by my comment, I really loved the article. It got me thinking about the issue in a different light, and thats what the aim of this is.
    I actually do some 'work' on Sport for Development-that is using the power of sport to tackle social issues and I am a strong advocate for programs like that. I also think I might know the NGO/people that you are talking about.
    Thusi, I think Kazi and Gcobani have said enough, but I'd like to add that I am very disturbed that you would reduce lives lost and the manner in which it occurred to a mere cost-benefit analysis; and compare grave issues like this and rape to camping in Vaal!

  14. # from thusego
    south africa is crime ridden,,thats a fact.young people die everyday thats a fact-soweto crime rate is high thats a fact-was the killing of these teenagers pre meditated..NO! was it an unfortunate accident-YES!comparing this incident to Nwabisa incident is confusing to me-i dnt see how they can be related…maybe we have different views as to what consitutes a historical event–Four teenagers killed by a drunken driver in soweto—HISTORICAL..NO!should jub jub be treated any differently in the justice system NO! has the incident caused momentary unrest amongst the youth of soweto and south africa..YES!is it historical NO!thats my opinion anyway..The writer went on to ask why research hasnt bn carried out?what are we going to investigate??he already asserted that the kind of driving jub jub did was some proof of masculinity on jub jubs part-i still dnt undersatnd how?he needs to elaborate on that assertion to get me nodding my head,how did he come to that-thats what i wanna know-what if i argued that jub jub was not racing-but disorientated form drug intake and was infact hallucinating..LOL!.Let me nt derail from the issue at hand….we are talking historical,i do not see how this can be remembered in lets say 2 years.with Nwabisa i think it might be squeezed in,and given a few lines on feminist issues and gender studies…it might only be used in situations relating to johannesburg or gauteng-and might nt have light on for example the eastern cape environment,for unknown reasons,or perhaps they feel she is not worthy of the recognition-because she was pedi and they are xhosa-and its taboo for a woman to be exalted in issues relating to the abolision of sexual harassment-which brings in elements in the diversity of cultures in south africa…Just saying.LOL
    i hope u are rational in your argument it is nt fuelled by the anger you feel towards the tragedy that befell these sweet boys-just breathe and separate the two and think long and hard about it-you will see where i am coming from.Not bad attempt by the writer ofcourse.i think it was a bit interesting.

  15. # from thusego
    note to the writer,next time you tackle such a controversial issue be sure to be very clear and be sure to expect a lot of criticism.Your comments shouldnt be personal attacks to the critics-and can i say that i dont take rape lightly,i take it the same as way as any crime i dont give it praise or leverage over theft for example..crime is crime-i had my reasons for saying what i said,but since i got crucified for that,i would like to retract that statement,but it still stands in my books-but is retracted in this instance…i do apologise if some may find it offensive,not the intention at all-im under the impression this is an open forum.if people raise issues they shouldnt be queezy when they are criticized,Finally i would like to say that in supporting his arguments(under comments) im "partially" on the same page as Gcobani,i think im at a point where i kinda "get"what he was trying to argue….God bless.

  16. Thank you Thusego. Of course the attack is never on the individual, but the contentions that the individual holds.

    If at the least like you say, you "kinda" get what I am saying, then the mission is half accomplished.

    The paper was to get the dialogue going, and to uproot some of the immaterial causes of the accident which have largely been ignored.

    Thank you again for keeping an open mind!

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