Cadres and compatriots: An analysis of their good lives as presented by Top Billing

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 40, issue 3, 2017 , pages: 172–184
DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2017.1354713
Author(s): Brandaan HuigenInstitute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Free University of Berlin, Germany


Top Billing is a South African lifestyle show, aired by the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The show promotes the “good life,” covering the lifestyles of wealthy South Africans. Segments on mansions and especially weddings are the most popular parts of Top Billing. Over the past six years, however, ANC politicians who occupy positions in government and their associates have featured on the show. By analysing inserts on weddings in which they feature, this article shows how these actors participate in what is collectively imagined and practiced as the “good life” in South Africa, shedding light on the current nature of the post-apartheid state and its actors and practices of power. The article argues that apart from working for a bureaucratic state that manages the precarious social conditions of South Africans, its actors seem to focus on imagining, fashioning and performing the good life. In particular, state actors’ good life is performed through tropes of “royalty” and “tradition,” “order” and the narrative of “humble beginnings,” blending its aesthetic motifs and practices in creative ways. From this, I deduce the power of the ANC-Zuma faction and its understandings of Zulu elite culture.

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