The miniskirt revolution

2012-02-18 13:02

Hundreds of women took to the streets of Johannesburg in protest against the abuse of young women – one of whom dared to wear a mini skirt – at the city’s notorious Noord Street taxi rank.

The march yesterday, organised by the ANC Women’s League, was dubbed “umzabalazo wezigqebhezana” (miniskirt revolution) by Women and Children’s Minister Lulu Xingwana.

However, many have been critical of the fact that the march took place two months after the two women were chased and groped by men, believed to be taxi drivers, who intended to punish them for the way they dressed.

One of the women was wearing a mini skirt at the time and the other’s bra strap was exposed. The ugly scenes were captured on CCTV.

The incident followed another in 2008, in which Nwabisa Ngcukana was sexually assaulted at the same taxi rank.

However, Rhodes University Professor Louise Vincent said this is nothing new.

Vincent, from the institution’s political and international studies department, says similar attacks on women have occurred in other African countries including Kenya,
Uganda, Malawi and Zambia since the mini skirt was designed in the 1960s.

In her paper titled "Women’s Rights Get a Dressing Down: Mini Skirt Attacks in South Africa", Vincent says that in 1971 Uganda banned them as “clothing injurious to public morale”.

The following year, Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda ordered that all skirts had to fall three inches below the knee.

At the University of Zimbabwe in 1992, a model wearing a miniskirt was attacked by over 100 male students for being dressed “indecently” and “inappropriately”.

And when female students dressed in mini skirts and shorts protested the attack, they in turn were mobbed by 500 male students “who threatened them with violence and called them prostitutes”.

Vincent wrote that during the march on the Noord Street taxi rank following the attack on Ngcukana in 2008, the marching women and a number of men were met by taxi drivers who whistled and screamed, as well as men “exposing themselves” who shouted that women should be taught a lesson for provoking men.

Yesterday, Xingwana led the march alongside Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.

One marcher waved a banner reading “Freedom for the miniskirt in our lifetime”, a play on the popular ANC Youth League slogan.

Xingwana and Mokonyane were later joined by ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe who accepted the ANC Women’s League’s memorandum which demanded that the insults based on what women wear must stop.

“Wearing a mini skirt is a human right. No African culture says women must be abused based on what they wear,” the organisation said.

Radebe told the gathering outside the South Gauteng High Court that there was nothing wrong with a “three-inch” – a reference to mini skirts.

“That’s why I’m here, I like isigqebhezana (miniskirt),” he said.

Taxi drivers kept a safe distance from the marchers amid a heavy police presence. They could only gesture at them as they gathered on the corner of Plein and Klein streets.

Mokonyane told the crowd: “Re makhoa a bona” (we are their bosses).

Taxi driver Tiyani Maluleke said he had nothing to do with the abuse of young women at the Noord Street taxi rank and should have been allowed to continue working.

“These people are wasting our time, why don’t they arrest the abusive taxi drivers?” he asked, adding that the well-publicised attacks at the rank were not good for the industry.

Another taxi driver, Michael Zungu, said the only way to tackle the abuse would be arresting the perpetrators and sending them to prison.

However, Ngcukana said her abusers told her they felt so untouchable that even government would not do anything to them and none of them has ever been arrested.

“My hopes of anything being done were crushed when it happened to those teenagers in December,” she said.

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