Mere Observations · People

The Other Part of Adulting (in South Africa), Part 1

No, don’t press the back arrow! I know, you’re probably sick of this damned word and don’t think there could be any more to expand on the concept of adulting. Hell, there’s already a book (or more) written about it. Let’s not even go into what it means, because it’s pretty obvious, for adults and adults-soon-to-be. It is not just a general, vague idea either. Certain activities, actions, thoughts and choices all fit under the adulting umbrella. And adulting takes a different spin if you look at the South African context. As a South African, I can only speak for components of adulting I observe here, I don’t know how the rest of y’all do it. Might be different, dunno…

I have been over the age of 21 for three years now, and have only just come out of the shelter that university provided me with. No lie, that’s the place you go if you want to avoid the real world (granted, you’re out of high school and not entering as a mature student). I just started working (yay), getting paid four figures (not so yay) and I’m getting the full adulting package now.

Look at me talking about adulting as if it’s some spa treatment.


At university and during the year-long job hunt, I learned how to speak to people — even though the idea of approaching a stranger gives me anxiety — and how to write reports, and how to compose e-mails, how to sound like I know what I’m talking about when I actually only know a quarter, and to plaster on a smile when I’d prefer not to. Now, I have to put that all into practice, plus learn to greet people when I walk into a room (even when I don’t know them), hold the door open for whoever’s behind me, look people in the eye, etc. I’m getting there, but I will need work on dealing with fellow colleagues whose second nature is snarkiness.

I still live at home (and in Africa as well other parts of the world except for the United States, for some reason; that’s not a badge of shame) with my family and the living arrangement isn’t causing me too much grief. The only problem is broke-ness, to the extent that we can’t afford sugar for tea and there’s no butter to adorn the bread we CAN afford. Rough. But circumstances will improve… I hope… What I do know is remaining at home for the next three years — which is what I expect — is more affordable than trying to move out.

We all know what it means to adult — paying bills and tax, holding down a job with regular hours, having and raising children, paying school fees, all the while, appearing well-rounded so nobody can see your pain. But there are other components that make up adulting; if adulting was an iceberg, these would be underwater.

Enduring long commutes to and from work

Most know this one, but when you come to South Africa, it’s a bit different. The working population gets to work in various ways; they walk, drive, take a taxi, take the Gautrain (if they live in Gauteng), take any metropolitan bus services available in the major cities or carpool (very few do). Our public transport system is greatly fragmented, sometimes you might need several modes of transport just to make a one-way commute. I take the Gautrain from a station near our house (note: not really near; my mum has to drop me off there), to the next station where I board a shuttle which takes me to the office park where my employer is based. And I have to go back home the same way. Others have it worse, needing to take at least three taxis, most likely passing through the CBDs of major cities, to be dropped off where they’ll have to walk until they reach their neighbourhood.

Gautrain, Sandton Station
Passengers boarding a minivan ‘taxi’

South Africa could stand to be compressed a little. A little. Everything is just so far away from everything else, it’s ridiculous. The lucky ones have cars, which they just drive to and from work. But they still get stuck in traffic at 5pm, so are they really lucky?

  • Pros: if you love music, you can listen to it in solitude (granted you have working head/earphones) until you get home and have to face the other side of your daily obligations: the familial side. Unless you’re a man who does nothing in his home, except plop yourself down on the sofa to not move until your tray of food arrives.
  • Cons:
    • South African commuting can be arduous if you didn’t have the awareness to relieve yourself before leaving either point A or B
    • If you are car-less and don’t have good friends, public transport is the sole option. And it can get intensely crowded during peak times, to the point that you fear you’ll start to tell what the person next to you (or anywhere in your vicinity) had for breakfast, smell their secrets, etc.
    • It costs money. A lot. The less time you have to get to work, the more it will cost to ensure you get there on time. #SouthAfricaNeedsMoreCarpools. And people who don’t say “my gas tank doesn’t run on friendship”.
    • If your commute follows a strict schedule (i.e. get off work at this time, get the bus at that time…) almost every day, you’ll find yourself seeing the same people at least nine times a week. For those who are habitually anti-social, or find it incredibly difficult to initiate conversation — unless it’s a matter of life and death, and money — this is a con. Neurotypicals won’t understand. Sometimes a commute is just a commute, and not an opportunity to strike up new friendships.

Humbling yourself

When one becomes an adult, the days of relying on someone older come to an anti-climactic end. Be you working or not, you have to fend for yourself where you can, and you can no longer point at something and ask a nearby grown-up, “Can I have?”. The ability/privilege to delegate responsibility and problems in need of solutions to your parents is revoked.

So, without Mum’s and Dad’s protective shiled of constant reassurance, positive affirmations and steady flow of income (if you didn’t grow up in a township or low-income rural area), you are on your own. However, many current adults and adults-to-be in South Africa already get a crash course in adulting, maturing beyond their years because they were not allowed to have their childhoods for as long as others (because: growing up black, growing up poor, apartheid, parents don’t want to raise sissies, all of the above?).

At university with an allowance or working with a pitiful entry-level salary (unless you’re white and male), you have to watch the money. When you still reclined in the warm bosom of your parents’ taking-care-of-everything, the fridge seldom became empty; you had a house to live in; toiletries abound, and if things were really good, you even had someone come to your house to clean it. You also just had to tell Mum “I think I’m coming down with something” and you’d be sitting in the doctor’s waiting room before you finished your sneeze.

Adulting requires you to take all aspects of maintaining yourself as a human being in a civilized world, into your own hands. You have to realise that you can’t part with money the way you did when you were still a minor who got thrilled at having R50 tuckshop money. You have to humble yourself, understand and embrace the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ and not get excited when your bank balance increases. Be glad, but not excited. Excitement leads to spending and before you know it, you’re back to one digit and two decimal places.

Don’t be fooled. Budgeting is not this cute-sy. I mean, you’re gonna need to buy those colourful pouches!

See other people at work getting takeaways? Don’t slip. Endure your pathetic, tasteless brown-bread sandwich or last night’s leftovers. Fight your own battles, negotiate and take criticism like a tequila shot. Apparently that’s supposed to make us stronger and deal with the world in its true form. You realise as an adult that, even though you may still live at home and don’t need to pay for your own food (yet), your being is signified by being disciplined enough to know when a potential purchase would be frivolous. You understand that ‘I need to make sure I have fare for the taxi/train to get home, more than I need this packet of crisps’, and that influences the decision you make. You also understand that you have to sleep like a baby so you don’t miss the alarm clock the next morning. Also, you know that if a colleague accosts you and makes you feel diminutive, there’s no playground duty teacher to go running to, talmbout “Sarah is being mean to me!”.

This is the part of your life where you have to work in order to attain nice things, but unfortunately a lot of people get trapped in their work and never get even half as close to the nice things, because they don’t save or can’t afford to. So you have to humble yourself or the financial institutions and their child, Debt, will do it for you.

Liking, and thus engaging in, things, for fear of looking like a loser if you don’t

In reference to appearing well-rounded, I believe you’re successfully adulting if you’ve fooled other adults and youth into thinking that you are successfully adulting. The previous sentence must be the literary equivalent of an image of a snake eating its own tail (or itself?). But yeah. You may not be okay deep down, but if you’ve convinced everyone else that you seem to have it all together, then thumbs up.

In South Africa, we have an intense party/get-together-and-drink-alcohol/go-out-to-clubs-or-events-to-drink-alcohol-and-be-seen culture. My boyfriend thinks that after the 2010 World Cup, South Africans were taken aback by how foreigners came to our country and just balled. Buying bottles in the club, spending money like it was mere handkerchiefs, just balling. Boyfriend figured that locals aspired to stunt like that, and so being in da club became wildly popular again. So much so these clubs offer to host birthday parties for local socialites and celebrities. That probably even spurned multinational companies based here to host events and invite celebs to draw awareness to their brands.

Picture: South African singer Judith Sephuma (in halter neck dress) grinding on Hillary Clinton (in shiny blue thing). Once our party culture sucks you in, you must just hold on, hle

With all this being said, regular, non-famous South Africans have a rejuvenated passion for going out and getting turnt. And I don’t mean the occasional outing to an event or bar lounge; no, this becomes an almost weekly thing. I find people even posting bottles of Veuve Clicquot alongside packets of jelly babies and other snacks, on Instagram, and it makes me wonder don’t these people have bills to pay? Or children? What kind of jobs do they have to appear to have enough disposable income to purchase a bottle of champagne for no special occasion?

Then again, social media allows us to show people parts of our lives we only want them to see. Who knows what they do for a living? Maybe that champagne was a loan, maybe there’s not even champagne in it…

Okay, before I go off-track, it astounds me to see someone on social media (who’s old enough to be having a full-time job) going to events or lounges every other week. Where do they find the time and energy? How does somebody go to Neighbourgoods, then elsewhere in Maboneng for a 5-hour long ‘chillas’, knowing full well that they’ll have to haul their ass into the shower at 5am the next day? I guess adulting as a South African includes bring able to work hard AND play super hard. You’re falling behind if it doesn’t look like you have a booming social life. Adult South Africans go out so much, phuza so much, it’s as if that extra bit of life they need lies at the bottom of Four Cousins or Olmeca bottle.


I’m not gonna judge folks for partying hard; hell, I wish I could do that. Even just go anywhere I wish, IN THE DAYTIME. The two things holding me back are lack of funds and my mother’s belief that as mother myself, I have no business engaging in turn ups. I’m sure adult South Africans who frequently eat out/drink out/get lit out don’t do so to keep up appearances (though some do, to inflate their sense of self-worth), they do it because they can and want to. Don’t tell a South African they shouldn’t party so much, that’s like telling a French person they must wean themselves off baguettes and confectionery baked goods. The former will tell you to mind you damn poes business and drink a Savanna, the latter will throw flour at you.


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