Custom allows miniskirts, say traditional leaders

Custom and ethnicity allow young women to wear miniskirts, the National House of Traditional Leaders said on Wednesday in reaction to a recent attack on a woman wearing a short skirt at a Johannesburg taxi rank.

From time immemorial, young women had been required to wear traditional miniskirts—known as makgabe or mabheshu—at traditional ceremonies, some of which even required that they dance bare-breasted, the body said.

“The National House of Traditional Leaders therefore calls on the nation at large to unite in action and protect our young women against archaic men who take advantage of culture as a means of assaulting women,” spokesperson Mandlenkosi Amos Linda said in a statement.

Nwabisa Ngcukana (25) was allegedly assaulted earlier this month at Johannesburg’s Noord Street taxi rank by taxi drivers and hawkers who tore off her clothes to cheers from a crowd who said she was being taught a lesson for wearing a miniskirt.

The attack has been widely condemned by, among others, taxi organisations, the African National Congress Women’s League, the Young Communist League and Gauteng provincial authorities.

Describing the women’s attackers as “insensate”, the traditional leaders said the actions of Ngcukana’s attackers were not only “barbaric”, but also unconstitutional as they violated gender-discrimination provisions.

“The National House of Traditional Leaders strongly condemns those who hide behind culture or exploit it to push their personal agendas,” said Linda.

“At no point has culture dictated to young lasses to wear dresses that [go] below their knees and neither has it dictated to men to assault young women who choose to wear miniskirts. However, it is culturally correct for married women to dress properly in respect of their husbands,” he said.

Police are still looking for Ngcukana’s assailants, Inspector Xoli Mbele said on Wednesday. She has laid a case of sexual harassment and is liaising with the investigating officer, but is yet to identify her assailants to the police, he said. “I hope soon there will be arrests.”

The Gauteng National Taxi Alliance has called on taxi associations operating in Noord Street to investigate and immediately suspend anyone implicated in the matter.—Sapa

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