A Rainbow Nation of blinged-up car owners

Like many black urban teenagers who grew up in the 1970s and '80s, when I wasn't doing what teenagers are supposed to do - running errands, being naughty or being downright disruptive - I took refuge in the colourful stories of soccer, sex, tokoloshes and crime on the pages of Pace and Drum magazines.

It was the racy capers about crime bosses that kept me glued to the magazines, mentally transporting me to the mean streets of the legendary metropolis of Soweto, a world away for a small-town KwaZulu-Natal boy like me.

In the '80s, one of the most popular crime gangs in Soweto was the amaKabasa, who specialised in car theft. I use the word "popular" advisedly. The law within this colourful gang that drove around in big BMWs was asikhawati udarkie: we don't hurt darkies. As such, the amaKabasa were popular. To ensure they had immunity from amaKabasa, darkies would adorn their cars with Pirates or Chiefs stickers, or some such.

That was then. Today, darkie or no darkie, in transformed Rainbow Nation South Africa we are equal-opportunity victims of crime. The thought about amaKabasa was rekindled in my mind by how we project our individual personalities through the cars we drive, or through the car registrations and stickers we parade on our roads.

The guy who introduced rims that keep on spinning long after the car stops must certainly have come from either Chatsworth, Lenasia or Laudium. I could be wrong, but there's something oriental about the spinning rims and all. Bollywood bling-bling.

And then there's the sound system - or rather the money spent on it. A guy - generally from Eldorado Park, Westbury, the Cape Flats or Wentworth - would be driving a simple Citi Golf blinged out in the proper fashion from wheels to windows, with leather seats and supersonic spoilers.

But he would top this already spectacular blur on the road with a sound system more expensive than the car itself. The message was clear: don't mess with me; you can't outbling me.

How about the guys from Ventersdorp, Benoni, Boksburg and Bloemfontein? You thought Ford Cortinas were banned ages ago in this country? Not in the brandy-and-Coke belt. In these neighbourhoods, Cortinas and Rancheros are kings of the road, having been transformed into something resembling a dinosaur in metal drag - huge tyres, huge headlights and huge exhaust pipes that roar like fighter jets. The message is clear: you can't outrun or outpower me on the road.

I saw these kinds of monsters in the American South - to be more precise, in Crawford, Texas, George W Bush's hometown.

My brothers are not big on styling their cars. But they are big on the price of the cars they drive. You get a guy driving a Range Rover Vogue. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's admirable that a person enjoy the money he works so hard for. However, my issue with some of the brothers is that while they drive these humongous and expensive cars, when you take the trouble to follow the brother to check out his pozzie, the guy still parks at his mother's house and sleeps in a back room. Ashooo!

Or you get a brother driving a Lamborghini and, over drinks, he doesn't stop telling you how much his monthly instalment is.

Brother, if you have to drive a Lamborghini, you better buy the blerry thing cash. Duh!

But then, my brothers also love personalised number plates that speak volumes about who they are. When you see a Chrysler, a Jag or any of the expensive cars, it's likely to have the registration plate "Vusi3 GP". The message is clear: don't mess with me. I have two other very expensive cars, Vusi1 and Vusi2.

Still sticking with my brothers. When I see a taxi with the sticker "Suk'endleleni" (Out of the way!) cut in front of me without warning, I know this brother has spoken. And once this class of brother has spoken, he will not appreciate being contradicted.

And the obsession with big cars goes even for those of our brothers in the diaspora. For example, when Bob Marley became rich, not only did he move uptown, he also bought himself a BMW.

The Sufferers, that class of poor, destitute Jamaicans with whom he had grown up in downtown Kingston, complained he had committed class suicide by buying a "bumbaclat Babylon chariot" (a sh*t, Western-capitalist car).

Always thinking on his feet, Marley quipped: the letters BMW actually stood for Bob Marley and the Wailers. He couldn't afford a case of mistaken identity.

Speaking of class suicide, two friends of mine who have the habit of hobnobbing with the well-heeled people of Cape Town tell me about an acquaintance of theirs who has, affixed to the spoiler of his big car, the message F*CK THE POOR.

And he is a black brother, very politically connected, with struggle credentials. Well, go figure.

Comments: fredkhumalo@post. harvard.eduN

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