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 THE hUnemployed youth hiking on the Soweto Highway as they have no money due to unemployment. Picture: SOWETANand wringing can stop. Research shows education,    not bling, is perceived by many of SA’s township youth as  indicative of status.

The perception that SA’s youth are materialistic is  widespread, and underscored by subcultures such as  izikhothane. Skhothane youths compete against each other  in front of crowds to determine which of them is wealthier,  often through the intentional destruction or wasting of  expensive personal items, demonstrating indifference to  their cost, with the implication that more are easily afforded.

“We found that status is found in some material things,” says Piet Geustyn, research manager at BrandsLaduma.

“But the overwhelming feeling was that it was education that indicated status. Yes, cologne, sports cars and all that do it, but the university degree is the most important. It goes hand-in-hand. They know that through education you can afford those things.”

In the 18-24 age group, 76% said a university degree “gives status”, while 67% of the 25-35 age group said the same. Only 29% of the latter group had a university degree, of the 18-34 age group 61% had finished high school.

BrandsLaduma came to its conclusion after using the 3.2-million readers of Soccer Laduma’s soccer publications to conduct market research. A total of 1,535 people responded to questions, with the largest percentage of them (37.65%) in Gauteng and the smallest (1.63%) in the Northern Cape.

“We wanted to find a 24-hour view of the black township market,” says Geustyn.

The company decided to ignore the usual approach of splitting people into the 10 living standards measure (LSM) groups, and go for age groups.

“We think LSMs in townships are irrelevant,” says Geustyn. “Now, before you go and call me an idiot. Here’s why. The LSM system was originally designed to try and find a way of segmenting people without focusing on demographics alone. The current LSM groupings run from 1 to 10, and are based on ownership of specific items, each with a score attached to it.

The focus on education as status will be music to the ears of people like Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele said earlier this year: “We see an ostentatious display of personal wealth by young people — regardless of the method of acquisition — of wearing expensive designer clothes, driving expensive cars and having expensive parties to show off their wealth.”

A survey last year by financial services firm Deloitte showed that “nearly one in four” young consumers in SA, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria said that buying well-known brands made them feel good, and that they could afford to buy the latest technological gadgets “pointing to growing awareness of, and appetite for, branded goods and high-end products among wealthier consumers”.

Deloitte surveyed 2,000 randomly selected people, 16 years and older, in these four countries, 500 people in each one.

This is not to say that in SA everyone’s a winner. In January the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said youth unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa was 11.8%. Using the ILO’s categorisation of youth as people between the ages of 15 and 24, the equivalent rate in SA was 52%, said John Kane-Berman, a consultant at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

The South African Presidency reported in the month that in SA 1.38-million young people had no work, meaning SA accounted for 1.9% of global youth unemployment, while SA’s population was 0.77% of the global population.

BrandsLaduma’s work revealed that people in the 18-34 group (comprising two smaller groups, 18-24 and 25-34) were “positive about SA and their own situation”, and very well-informed and adept with mobile technology, says Geustyn.

“We called them the Ubuntu Millennials. We feel that the younger lot fits the group more, but Generation Y (an international term, describing people with birth dates ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) is just as tech savvy. Ubuntu comes from their sense of being together, social, their exposure to their peers worldwide,” he says.

Despite this global exposure, these Ubuntu Millennials face “enormous pressure” from family and their immediate society to support family members, often younger siblings. Included in the survey was another group, people aged 35-49. “It’s nice to have them to show the difference,” says Geustyn.

The so-called Ubuntu Millennials are “the CEOs of the future”, says Geustyn. “They will be more entrepreneurial. Maybe I am just overly positive, but I think they already are, but not just connected to the formal sector. I think we are an innovating nation…. Yes, we have innovative ways of solving problems, we just need society — and I guess, government — to make sure access to information is there so that we can establish businesses for ourselves.”

Among Ubuntu Millennials the adoption of smartphones and other “smart” devices that give internet access has been “quick”, especially after “lesser named devices” became available. In fact, the ubiquity of smartphones was part of the reason Soccer Laduma decided to ditch LSMs in its market research, says Geustyn.

The average Ubuntu Millennial lives in an urban township in a family of five or six people, is tech-savvy, views family and friends as heavy influences when buying goods from smartphones to insurance and fast food, is social, views education as important and plays more than one sport, he says. “They are very much like any millennial you see.”

 This article was first published on the 18 September edition of Business Day Online.

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