A woman has dismissed reports that she was given to Hlaudi Motsoeneng as a “gift” and says the allegations have created rifts in her relationship.
The 23-year old woman who was reportedly given to the SABC’s acting chief operating operator Hlaudi Motseneng as a part of a “thank you gift” from Venda leaders has slammed such reports as false and said that they have almost destroyed her future marriage to another man.
According to media reports from two weeks ago, Vanessa Mutswari was one of several young women offered to the national broadcaster’s second in command as part of a thank you ceremony held by a cultural lobby group in Venda.
However, Mutswari, who was purportedly “chosen” by the already-married communications executive as a suitable wife, has joined others in criticising this version of events as unreservedly false.
“I am standing before you. I am saying with my own mouth I was not given to anybody,” said Mutswari. As per Venda custom, she was topless and wore beads around her head and neck, and traditional printed cloth from the waist down. She spoke Venda to the press despite being well-versed in English.
The group’s language and cultural advisor, Gladys Nethengwe, acted as translator. “That’s not our Venda tradition. I’m proud of what I am and my culture,” she said.
The SABC as a whole, rather than Motsoeneng himself, was at the time offered a calf and cow in thanks for its expansion of Venda-speaking media within the broadcaster, said Nethengwe. The young women (there were four, not 10, she said) had merely acted as ushers to lead Motsoeneng to the waiting place of the cattle. This was in conformance with Venda tradition.
’Destroyed my marriage’
Some reports said that Motsoeneng had asked for Mutswari’s phone number and offered to help to pay for her education. But, speaking after the press conference, Mutswari said that none of the girls had been singled out, that she had had no contact with Motsoeneng since the event and that the executive had merely encouraged all of the young women to pursue an education.
Another young woman who had also acted in the same capacity on the day corroborated her version of events.
Mutswari, who is a human resources student, a midfield soccer player and currently holds the title of Miss Tshisimani Campus at her local FET college, said that she was already engaged to another man.
But the media reports had created huge rifts in her relationship, she said. “The Sowetan destroyed my [future] marriage,” she said. “I have tried to explain to him [ her fiancé] that those allegations are not true but … newspapers … radios are talking about it.
“Everyone wants to talk whatever they want. That’s why I am saying the Sowetan has destroyed my future marriage.”
However, the Sowetan said it has no intention of apologising for its reportage. “We stand by the story. We are not going to retract it,” Sowetan editor, Mpumelelo Mkhabela told the Mail & Guardian. “If anything, the organisers of the event must apologise to women in South Africa.
“They are trying to deflect attention instead of accepting responsibility for what they have done. They are using the paper as a scapegoat. They must not shoot the messenger. If they think there’s a problem, they must go to the press ombudsman or go to court.”
The leaders had prepared written responses to some of the media reports, highlighting parts of the stories that were factual and others that they deemed incorrect. They summonsed a reporter from the Sowetan newspaper, which originally broke the story, to receive their document in front of the group gathered in a conference room at a hotel in Auckland Park.
They required her to kneel as she did so.
All members of the press were also required to remove their shoes and prostrate themselves on the ground out of traditional deference to the leaders present.
Leaders thoroughly lambasted the media for what they said was “lies made in some of your newspapers”. Nethengwe was speaking on behalf of the leaders.
“You [media] have destroyed us … We are worn out. Our hearts are bleeding for what you did.”
Mutswari’s grandmother, an executive committee member of Mudzi, said that she had come under personal attack in the community as a result of the reports. “People now say … that I’m selling the child. I’ve suffered a lot because of her,” she said.
“The husband-to-be is a rich man, not a poor man, so what else do I want from the SABC people?”
She was “very angry” with the newspapers, she said. When asked whether the group would press charges against the Sowetan newspaper, Mudzi executive secretary Humbelani Nemakonde said that they would enter discussions with publication.
If these went well, then no charges would be pursued. But “if they are arrogant … we will have to take action against them,” he said. Speaking after the conference, members of the group expressed dissatisfaction that Motseneng had not made more of an effort to publicly disclaim the allegations made against him. “He should be here,” two of the group members said.
‘I’m a strong woman’
The host of an SABC-hosted cultural-religious radio show was at the conference, but she made no attempt to speak on behalf of the broadcaster or the chief operations officer.
Despite the murkiness created by the event and its subsequent reporting, Mutswari said that she planned to work things out with her betrothed.
“I’m a strong woman. Nobody will let me down,” she said. “I’m going to sit down and talk to him. We will let all this come to an end. Life must go on.”