Brands wanting to connect with township youth need to let go of two widely held misconceptions: the monolithic kasi narrative and that kasi youth are lazy and waiting for government to step in and give them handouts. Only then can brands hope to build an authentic relationship with this exciting and influential group.
Misconception #1: You can paint kasi culture with a one-story brush.
“Kasi” is a colloquial term affectionately used to describe the unique vibe of township living in South Africa. Kasi culture is rich, diverse and multi-faceted and consists of a mix of vastly different subcultures. But many brands still falsely paint kasi life and culture as a singular, homogenous expression.
What these brands need to realise is that the kasi isn’t one thing.
There is rawness and undiluted originality that can be associated with South African township culture. This gets expressed in diverse ways among subcultures within the same landscape, each of which is unique in the world. From styles of music to the colourful fashion, flavourful food and original dance moves, ekasi is where South African culture is born and our young people are not ashamed to be loud and proud about where they come from.
The beauty of our kasi youth is that they wear many hats, sometimes at the same time. Let’s look at just some of the more prominent subcultures that make up South African township culture:
Izikhothane (plural of “skhothane”) are demonstrations of showmanship where individuals or groups compete against each other in front of large crowds to determine who is wealthier or better at dancing. These “battles” are performed using material items such as money, mobile phones, clothes, alcohol, or food. Check out this video to learn more about this unique South African subculture.
The Skrr Skrrs:
Is a term used to refer to a new-age hip hop subculture, usually around trap music. It is believed that the name was coined because of the heavy use of ad libs such as “skrr skrr” (the sound of stretching tyres) in the music. Style, language, lifestyle, and music constitute a typical South African township skrr skrr. They have found a way to authentically localise their subculture and ensure it fully represents who they are.
This group is usually made of more middle-class, clean-cut and urbanised individuals who subscribe to what might be considered high-maintenance or affluent standards of living – except that they have localised this in their own way to fit into the township aesthetic. Most within this subculture have access to a bit more wealth than the average township dweller.
Within this subculture you may also find “slay queens” and “cheese boys” who all share a passion for materialistic items and extravagance, especially in fashion and lifestyle.
Kasi sports enthusiasts are passionate and excited about sports such as soccer, netball, basketball and skating, among others. It includes those who play these sports and those who spectate – with a deep level of devotion and understanding of their sport of choice. Kasi sports often have a DIY element, from DIY skate parks to makeshift sports fields and spectator viewing experiences.
Kasi people are not ashamed to express their passions and this is the common thread that you’ll find running through the different subcultures.
Misconception #2: Kasi youth are waiting for their next hand-out.
South Africa's unemployment rate is currently at 32.5%. These unforgiving macroeconomic factors have made kasi youth the true drivers of ingenuity. Resource constraints have put them in situations where they have needed to circumvent established policies, procedures, and practices for their own benefit – by constantly looking for the best prices, freebies, discounts and opportunities to share.
No data? No problem. Meet the “bumfencers” getting free wifi outside of community centres.
No Storefront? No problem. Meet the entrepreneurs, leapfrogging brick & mortar with DM for price.
No resources? No problem. Meet the DIY generation, powered by digital & social media.
One thing we know for sure is that this generation will continue to use their ingenuity and diversity to not only drive themselves forward, but the country too.
A Better Solution
Now that we’ve dispelled the misconceptions, the question is: How do we win the hearts of Gen Z kasi consumers? Successful brands know that, beyond entertainment, solving genuine human needs is where we can create the most impact. With this in mind, here’s how we can show kasi youth that we get them:
- Invest in creating meaningful connections
- Focus on true representation
- Always meet them where they are
- Have a point of view and stand for something that matters to them
Kasi youth are living in an era where they play an active role in creating culture that is relevant to their experiences. Measuring those experiences on a new cultural currency that values uniqueness, authenticity, creativity, share-ability and recognition is how you will win their hearts, minds and wallets.