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The cult of the freebie-addicted

Dlamini is a writer, critic, traveller and portrait photographer. He also has a day job, sort of. His portraits of writers have been published in many top literary publications, but he mostly makes his living as Chairman of the Chillibush Group of Companies, which deals in the dark arts of advertising, public relations and event management. In 2007 Dlamini was the recipient of the South African Literary Awards' Literary Journalism prize. He regularly reviews books, especially from Southern Africa, and presents the The Victor Dlamini Literary Podcast. Recent columns:

When did it become a status symbol to spend more time and money hunting down a complimentary ticket than it would cost to just buy the thing?

The strange thing about freeloaders is that they aren’t hard up; those addicted to freebies are usually middle-class professionals. I have come to realise that for many of them it is not about the money, but rather a matter of personal pride to get something for free. Then they can boast about how well-connected they are to receive these freebies. And I don’t mean that they accept the odd gift here and there, with which there is nothing wrong. These are people who have positioned themselves at the front of the queue for anything they can get.

The determined freeloaders start sniffing around for free tickets as soon as they hear that their favourite star is coming into town to perform. Instead of picking up their wallets, they pick up the phone and call all their contacts till they land what is euphemistically called a “comp ticket”. You would think they’d be grateful to receive a free ticket at all, but that isn’t enough. They will go on to beg, cajole and smooth-talk their way to a ticket for their partner, and where they can push their luck, tickets for the rest of their entourage.

In this company the more you can get for free, the more exalted your status. It is telling that often, in their frenzy to receive a free ticket, freeloaders are willing to spend even more than the value of the comp just so they can boast that they were “invited”. I once saw a guy driving from Pretoria to Johannesburg to pick up a R20 comp ticket for a soccer match. He just had to get his fix, even it meant he had to drive more than a 100 kilometers for it.

It is also telling that a freeloader who misses out on an available freebie will feel almost cheated. I have been phoned I don’t know how many times by freeloaders asking if I’m going to a game between Pirates and Chiefs. When I say no, they push ahead regardless and ask if I happen to know where tickets can be found. I always ask: “Have you tried Computicket?” They just laugh.

I am constantly amazed by the expectation of freeloaders to be seen at all the best events without ever forking out a cent of their own money. If they are invited to a fashion show or a music concert on a freebie ticket, they still expect to get the best seats in the house. Modesty and gratitude are not traits that you can accuse them of.

It seems that once the freebie bug has bitten them, it is nearly impossible to cure them of this ill. Once hooked these freeloaders need a bigger dose of freebies to satisfy their yearning. And this is not the kind of parasitic behavior we want to encourage. We often hear artists complaining that music piracy is killing their industry, but I sometimes wonder if the culture of freebies does not feed this disregard for the value of what artists produce. It’s been shown time and again that once people receive something for free they are not willing to pay for it the next time around. Those companies that dangle freebies in front of their ‘stakeholders’ should consider the long term consequences of their actions.

It is strange that as a society we have created a class of beggars to masquerade as the cream of our society when we should be encouraging them to pay their way like everyone else. I say let’s call them out and rid ourselves of this despicable social scourge.


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