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Examining the urge to be cool…

I remember during my secondary school career, my school had a breed of popular young men, some
of them were older than me, others were of the similar age to me. 
They were very popular in the whole school, for attracting every girl’s attention. 
The kind of people everyone hated to love, as they were notorious for being heartbreakers, 
and would bully anyone they wanted to and got away with it. They got everyone to do what they 
wanted in the time suitable for them, basically, they owned the school environment. 

I remember them for their black shoes which were very shimmering, not forgetting the loads of 
money they carried to school, never for a second did we ever question the source of that money, 
they were friends with the dangerous guys from the village who dropped out of school. 

We developed a desire of becoming like them, or at least be around them so that we may feel
protected and be regarded as “cool”- I would write them their homework and completed their
assignments so that I would be able to fit into their crew, or at least get their attention.
I have not also forgotten the girls in school who cut up their skirts to be much shorter for 
getting male teachers' attention, if you attended or attend a township school you are familiar 
of girls who bunk classes, during lunch breaks they hangout in school toilets for smoking and 
carry space muffins to school, some of them are known for telling educators where to get off, 
and surely make some of the teachers to cry, it is no secret that they date old dangerous men 
from the community, who from time to time drops them outside the school main-gate with their 
Gusheshe’s [BMW 325I ] .These girls carry lunch boxes that are filled with the items you know 
they cannot afford neither their parents would, during my high school term some of them would 
carry their party clothes with the school backpack, so that after school, they would take off 
their uniform and look like adults in taverns they went to, and not forgetting the era where 
social media was kicking in our society, these girls evolved with the time, they carried 
expensive phones and were on Mxit, with names such as @SweetLips and @DarkChocolate;
most of the time they had earphones listening to pop music, they would disappear for days from 
school, not out of illness or any valid reason but they had been locked in by the old men
they dated. Every girl in school wanted to be with and like them because they were also known 
to be very #Cool!

I am of a reasonable belief that for generations, it has been a norm that young people have been
striving to be #Cool; or at least associated with those who are “Cool”. Listen I personally have
struggled as a young man living in the modern day South African generation with trying to fit in,
as I am from rural areas [eMakhaya], and also from a poor background and lastly since I am a 
Christian, it has been a struggle before I discovered my identity, I will tell you how in a bit.

When you are from the rural areas you are subjected to a huge amount of negative pressure, 
especially when you move to a township, or to any urban place, you are subjected to ridicule of 
being calledibhinca; or umkhaya; or even farm-Julia; [All these terms means that you are from a 
rural area and you are not exposed to the modern advanced life], and you automatically feel the 
pressure of having to adjust to the urban life through adaptation to their fashion style, their 
jargon and their behaviour for you to be cool and be able to fit it in. The sad part is that 
when you are from the countryside, you uphold values of respect and Ubuntu, you greet everyone, 
extend the courtesy of respect to both the young and the old, and sharing the little you have 
with those around you but as you move to the city, all of that changes as the values that shapes
you to be identifiable as an African and depicts Ubuntu, things get twisted extensively in the 
city as all those values you uphold are used against you, to make fun of you and to lower your 

This is how my poor background comes to light, for a long time it has made me and many others 
go into the world and pretend to be something we are not, in a society where money, beautiful 
clothes and expensive lifestyle is regarded as the real lifestyle. Honestly, do make an 
observation around you, the people in clubs popping expensive bottles of champagne and spend 
a lot of money on girls are from terrible backgrounds- they live lavishly to hide their 
background and in order to fit in with the Real Big Players. I still remember vividly when I was
growing up, as I would go early from home to school when the streets were empty and would come 
back very early because I was scared that my friends would see where I stayed, as they came 
from wealthy families. Everyone knew in the community that Kwa-Vilakazi [our household] was a 
drastically poor household, you did not have to go inside to see that, just a mere look on 
house with broken windows you would conclude that indeed we did fall in the poor category, and I
became ashamed of where I come from, that what trying to be cool can make you do. You become 
even capable of denying your own family, your old illiterate grandmother, your drunkard 
uneducated uncle, your mother who works as a domestic worker in order to meet the standards of 
your friends who come from well-off educated families.

As a young man who is an ardent Christian, it has been very hard to maintain my faith, in an
environment where my peers would say Loosen up a bit, and Stop being boring. You
just need a guy or a girl that will just open your eyes, such words are nothing to me at this 
point in my life, but during my secondary school career it destroyed me emotionally, and 
unfortunately this practice is still is ongoing as young people in schools who express their 
faith without fear, are ridiculed and called different names such as uMkhokheli, Mam Mfundisi, 
Nceku [These terms are used in church to refer people due to their certain tasks]. 
In my community, Christianity was known to be practiced by boring people with no life, 
people whom have failed at life, and did not know what to do with their lives, in brief, 
if you were a Christian you had taken a miserable route. The world has been conditioned in a 
manner where people have to compromise their beliefs in to please others and to fall under 
the cool category.
Now let me continue from where I started-the urge of being cool. I believe this urge can start 
with minor desperation for attention and acceptance which grows daily and you begin acting like
you really do not care about consequences of your actions, attending wild parties to impress 
certain people and even engage on some activities that are against your values so that you may 
gain approval and to be appealing to your peers. Some people goes to an extent of gossiping 
about certain people, in order to be liked by those they are sharing the juicy gossip with,
and as you develop the coolness urge you become insensitive, end up saying offensive things 
because you are scared that your friends may regard you as a weakling or someone who is 
playing it too safe.
In black townships we have inherited the Inja yeGame [The dawg] mentality which has to do with
doing things to prove a point, some young men would prove to their peers that they are capable 
of sleeping with the hottest girl in township section, the story is the same with girls. 

As a person grows, it changes to becoming about who spends money the most on alcohol or buys 
drinks for everyone - “The next round is on me” at the tavern/club. Being cool has always been 
about breaking rules and making fun of other people so that your peers can laugh and credit you 
for being an audacious individual. To many youngsters you cannot be cool without having the bad 
and reckless behaviour which includes being very nasty, rude and uncontrollable. Coolness is 
also known as not disappointing your peers by all means, and you do this at all cost, even for 
the people who wouldn't break a neck for you.
Coolness in our generation includes hurting, being broke and hiding your fears, hiding your true
feelings in order for Ontanga [peers] to commend you for being The dawg it has made many young
people hide their weaknesses, out of fear of losing friends; when they find out that you as guy 
you also cry when life hits you bad nawe Mjita uyakhala or that as a young woman you are 
ignorant of some stuff nawe MoGhel khona into ongayazi noyisabayo. The urge of fitting in can 
make you say Yes when you actually wanted to say No. On the road of trying to be cool, 
you end up laughing things you don't find funny in order to look and sound relevant.

Some people go to an extent of buying food and clothes that are outside their comfort zone style
and comfort so that they may not miss out the trend or to look like they are very backwards.
The sad part about coolness you become scared to expose your ignorance and to say I don't know
how is this done, can you teach me how it is done?

This why young people should stop trying to be so cool.
You lose yourself in this quest of learning to be cool and mostly you get robbed of the most 
important thing - a sense of purpose in life as you become scared to stand up for what you 
believe in, and insecurities start creeping in, as you become scared of making mistakes. 

You will also be depressed along the way when you can't keep up with being cool any longer and 
you will be broken inside as you have become surrounded with fake people and with you in the 
pack living a hypocritical life.

Cool is also an association with wanting something you don't have. I believe in a redefined 
concept of being cool which includes daring to be different and to be the weird one, I believe 
in the coolness of slaying academically, following your dreams and being an active citizen.
People do not tell us but as you try to be cool; you become predictable, you look and speak like
something we have seen before. Kindly agree with me when I say many people started using drugs
and other substances, entered in some toxic abusive relationships, committed terrible crimes 
they are regretting till this day or even serving sentences for them, and gave away many things 
including themselves because they were trying to be cool. The people whom their lives revolves 
around pleasing people are very miserable, as in the process they are also losing themselves.
Not only young people strive for coolness, even with adults; holding the truth that would save
someone, or to correct them because we are scared, of rejection or that the person will say 
You think you are better - that is to compromise the truth, for your coolness.

I believe that the presence of programmes such as YCAP in South African schools, many young
people will benefit as they gain confidence and stop not living under people's shadows and to 
grow up and become bold individuals who stand up for what they believe in and staying true to 
who they are, without compromising their dignity and core-values for people’s validation.

Written by Mbuyiselo Vilakazi, YCAP Alumna and Support Team Ambassador

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