#alienadventures: The Rise of the South African “Slackoisie” (Prounounced “Slack-wah-zee)

My latest column for City Press seems to have hit a nerve, so I’ve decided to republish my origional column as a blog-post. The column hinges around the “slackoisie” a delicious term used to describe young law professionals – and increasingly – the work ethic of the Y- generation, or millennials. But I have used the term to describe the South African work ethic, compared to what I saw and experienced in China. My City Press column can be accessed at: http://www.citypress.co.za/Columnists/Rise-of-the-slackoisie-20110820 – but here’s the origional copy.


“Slackoise” – Prounounced “Slack-wah-zee”

Urban Dictionary /Noun: “A term coined by J. Daniel Hull, author of the “What About Clients?” and popularized by Scott H. Greenfield, author of the “Simple Justice”. It refers to:
A class of narcissistic young professionals, particularly attorneys (and usually millennials), who believe that having a job is an entitlement, rather than a privilege. They often complain about the work they have (if working) and are critical of long hours and inadequate pay. They believe they are entitled to work/life balance, that their opinions on any subject are inherently important and that whatever benefits they enjoy are inadequate. The Slackoisie are more interested in having a place to go in the morning and spending money than committing themselves to their work.”

You’ve heard of the “bourgeoisie”: the French name for the middle-class, who are generally ‘obsessed with narrow-minded concerns for material interests and respectability”? Now meet the “slackoisie”.  As the sidebar explains, the slackoisie is a somewhat derogatory term pinned on young professionals working in law, but it is increasingly being used to describe the attitude and behaviour of millennials, or Y Generation. If you are a parent or employer of this generation, you’ll most probably be nodding in agreement.
However, on a recent trip to China, it dawned on me that this was not so much a millennial trait, but perhaps an accurate description of the work ethic of many South Africans. Let me clarify.

If you’ve ever been to China, the first thing that strikes you are the vast numbers of people.
Rough estimates peg the current population in China at around 1.3 billion, and the global population at just under 7 billion – that’s a big slice of the global pie. You really understand the term “densely populated” when you visit the two main cities, Beijing and Shanghai, which have populations of 22 million and 23 million respectively. Just these two cities alone equal the entire population of South Africa. That’s mind boggling.

Once I adapted to the human tsunami another realisation hit me. I now understand why those waif-like Chinese gymnasts dominate on global platforms like the Olympics, and why the concept of a Tiger mom is not seen as an anomaly. To get to the top of your game in China – whether it is in the sports arena, the arts or in business – you have to fight millions of other people to get there (there are currently 35 million music students just studying piano). I finally understood why Chinese students think it a tragedy when they “only” manage to get 95% in an exam: it’s because there are literally thousands of others who will pip them to the post with that extra 5%. The harsh reality of fighting for those precious few places at university, or in the job market, is very real and does not need to be drummed into those determined young minds. The hunger to succeed is very tangible.

Energised, inspired and motivated I returned home, and for a while I felt as if I had strayed into a parallel universe. (A little context before proceeding: as a third generation South African, this was my first trip to these megacities, so it was as much a culture shock for me as it would be for someone from rural KZN visiting Kazakhstan. I therefore have as much affinity to China as Oprah has to her Zulu bloodline.)

One of the first newspaper headlines that greeted me was a story about a group of learners who started a protest and pelted their headmaster with stones – because she locked them out of the school for being continually late, despite numerous warnings.  The next story I read revolved around more protests and demands, this time from students at Durban University of Technology: one of their (numerous) demands was that they did not want the free government issue condoms to be distributed on campus, but rather a brand name condom. A parallel universe indeed.

Every week our newspapers are filled with doom and gloom stories of shoddy levels of education, rampant unemployment and an inefficient bureaucracy, which are only depressing because they are true. Our fighting spirit is channeled into strikes, rather than entrepreneurship. We have a nation that is starving, but ironically, not hungry enough. Our only understanding of competition is “keeping up with the Khumalo’s”, and even then we prefer the fast-track, bling-bling approach. The term, slackoisie, fits comfortably on our shoulders like a shiny bespoke suit.

China has its own fast-widening wealth gap, bringing with it social problems that all developing nations grapple with, but the attitude of the people is what sets this nation apart. Their work ethic is legendary, but the ability to work counts for nothing without discipline, and discipline is what the slackoisie are not too fond of. Unfortunately, without discipline you can’t build a nation, let alone compete against others.

2 Responses to “#alienadventures: The Rise of the South African “Slackoisie” (Prounounced “Slack-wah-zee)”
  1. bronwyn says:

    Great artical! I still just love that word “Slackoise”.

  2. I like this post, especially how the contrast between Chinas work ethic and South Africans, Discipline is what we lack, from an early age, and our drive to acheive better than that 95% is also a low, because schools have taught that 50% is more than enough, its the same as teaching a child that averge is more than enough to get you through life… Providing this sense of entitlement as you mentioned. This establishes this sense of “I don’t have to work hard enough because average is more than enough”. We need to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of, not to say we would love to be like China, but we would want to be better than ourselves, that’s a start.

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