Fri Oct 21 16:56:02 CAT 2016

Yesterday's hero is today's fashionista

By unknown | Mar 11, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

As elections loom, many a politician will roll up their sleeves and visit voters dressed in the simplest T-shirts, caps and jeans to win the hearts and minds of poor people.

However, today's politician is a sleek dresser who has a taste for the good things of life.

Post 1994, there was an explosion of the new order that steadily took root in South Africa. Although the majority were poor, those who were lucky enough to ride the BEE wagon were happy to throw off the yoke of apartheid and rags and submit to sumptuousness.

Politicians who used to believe in socialism were on a spending spree, guzzling fine single malt whiskies and snapping up luxury cars. This phenomenon was previously eschewed because spending on trendy, branded clothing was considered tacky and irresponsible.

Economist Thorstein Veblen coined this kind of behavior "conspicuous consumption".

Veblen was reacting to the over-the-top wastefulness of a guilty society.

According to Veblen, in the mind of a conspicuous consumer, such display serves as a means of attaining or maintaining social status.

According to Eric Naki, deputy editor of Growth magazine, during apartheid clothes were used by the youth to make a statement about their generations' protest of apartheid.

He said African regalia, which is now shunned by many politicians, who would rather be seen in a Prada or Gucci suit, was always a staple item of clothing in the wardrobe of many politically-enlightened individuals.

He says overall this fashion look was one of rebellion and revolution.

"The unrest and dissatisfaction of those days was clearly expressed through the fashion trends the youth set.

"Hairstyles like locks and Afros were also used to express the frustration with the system."

Naki adds that, sadly, the same politicians who used to call this behaviour bourgeois and counter-revolutionary are now presenting the same behaviour with their huge compensation packages, composed largely of bonuses, trendy cars and flashy clothes.

"There is nothing wrong with having beautiful things, but in an unequal and poverty-stricken society like ours, it is irresponsible for politicians to demonstrate a taste for luxury.

"Many politicians end up stealing from the people because their regular salaries do not sustain their lifestyles. This can lead to corruption, kickbacks and the like. Thus bribery, fraud, embezzlement of public funds, favouritism and nepotism are rife in our society," Naki says.

People are getting impatient with this kind of behavior and those in high places are no longer the subject of envy, but of embarrassment.

Convicted fraudster Tony Yengeni has been labelled a Gucci socialist by critics.

Recently, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for transport, community safety and liaison Bheki Cele got a tongue-lashing from the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) for being a fashionista and not protecting students.

Have politicians lost their political values? Are they applying double standards?

ANC Youth League spokesperson Zizi Kodwa defends politicians. He says though the ANC does not support conspicuous consumption, politicians have every right to spend their money on whatever they wish to. He lashed out at Cosas for condemning Cele for his fashion sense.

"It was irresponsible of Cosas to say what it did. Cele is not hurting anyone by choosing to dress the way he does. We all have different fashion senses. He is an MEC. He can afford to buy expensive labels."

Fashion designer Hangwani Nengovhela of Rubicon clothing says there is nothing wrong with politicians dressing fashionably.

"People evolve with time, just like fashion. Politicians are also people. They want to look good like any other person," says Negovhela.

"For example Che Guevara believed in socialism, but because of evolving times he has been exhumed as an icon of retro-chic cool, particularly by street fashion labels."


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