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Going out in style

Going out in Style: South African High School Matric Ball Extravaganzas. Based on the contents of an article in the South African Sunday Times of 26 August 2001, but told from my point of view.

“I wanted my son to have an evening that he’ll never forget – you only have one matric farewell and you can get married several times.” This sad comment on modern marriage is one of the reasons that some wealthy South African families spend the same kind of money on the end of a child’s school career as they do on weddings.

The dressmakers and limo rental firms do well, but some of these kids are a little more imaginative when they spend their fathers’ money. The dances are held in five-star hotels such as Cape Town’s Bay Hotel or Johannesburg’s Sandton Sun, so the goal for the boys is to arrive with their dates in a way that cannot fail to gain attention, and above all to be ‘cool’.

Luxury and vintage car rental services are booked solid, providing conveyances such as a classic Rolls Royce or Bentley. At about four times the hourly rate for limos, local helicopter charter companies keep busy too, but the winners are those who have influence as well as money.

In Johannesburg four years ago, a group of four boys rented two limos, but the escort of 10 Harley Davidsons and a Dodge Viper was arranged for free by an uncle and his biker colleagues. The black rubber circle outside the entrance to the Sandton Sun left by the lead rider’s ‘donut’ on arrival lasted several months.

This year, Somerset College ball in Cape Town’s Somerset West was dominated by the arrival of Andrew van Aswegen and his date Kim Whitaker in a breakdown truck – a huge yellow Mack tractor used for rescuing the biggest trailer rigs. They had to measure the width of the entrance gates to ensure that it would fit.

However, most people still give top vote to Marc Pozniak, head boy at Johannesburg’s King David High, for his effort in 1999. With a little help from a volunteer fireman cousin, he arrived at the Sandton Sun escorted by the Sandton Fire Brigade – squad cars, tow trucks and emergency vehicles, all with sirens wailing, obliging all the limos to pull over as they swept past.

Companies that serve these expensive tastes are delighted, but headmasters are less impressed. In a land where the majority still live in poverty, they are asking their pupils (and their parents) to maintain a sense of proportion. Are we seeing the end of an era?

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