Awulethe i-mini yami!

It has been an uplifting week. The women who took back the taxi ranks in marches last Friday and on Monday this week deserve a bow from all of us. What they have done is not only to assert that the miniskirt is women’s to wear as we will, but also that public spaces are there for the public.

Earlier this year Nwabisa Ngcukana was belittled and abused at a taxi rank in Johannesburg. She complained and her experience raised the ire of a generation of women tired of being victims in the face of unrelenting abuse from people seemingly immune to the rights contained in the Constitution.

Enough! The Remmoho Women’s Forum got the minis rolling with a march on Friday. Ignoring the Neanderthal antics of the taxi drivers, who stripped to reveal rather untoned and unattractive buttocks, they claimed back the ranks, demanding a meeting with taxi bosses to sign codes of conduct to ensure that women travel safely and without fear.

On Monday it was the turn of Redi Direko and her crew from Talk Radio 702, who marshalled a cross-cultural group of women who made a massive mark for empowerment in the city centre.

It is clear that taxi ranks are zones of necessity rather than convenience for women. The taxi Taliban occupy that space with the same immunity and impunity that they rule the road. Most drivers and commuters have come to accept that when it comes to taxis, we live in Afghanistan.

But the brave women who marched now allow all of us say: “No way. This is SA.” That means we are protected by the Constitution, which pivots on the notion of racial and gender equality. Yes, there is a long road to travel so that rights meet lived experience, but freedom is never going to be delivered from on high. It must be fought for, staked and claimed, as the women who marched have done.

In their actions is a message to all South Africans who have been taught that delivery is delivered. That is not so. We all need to roll up our shirts, put on our minis and take back the ranks, the streets and the spaces commandeered by criminals. Awulethe i-mini yami!

Raising the curtain

Good theatre is supposed to reflect the society in which it prospers. The purpose of playing, as the Bard told us, is to hold a mirror up to nature.

How sad then that the off-the-cuff comments by Lion King producer Lebo M have mirrored a society not quite at ease with honest discussion about racial inequality.

Those out to stereotype Morake as a black person arriving late (when don’t they?) for his own funeral, with an oversized chip on his shoulder, should bear in mind that, as he told the Mail & Guardian in an interview before the Lion King opened, the local production took three years of negotiations, seven years of brokering, the construction of one of the finest musical playhouses on Earth and the development of dozens of young, black South Africans. And that pertains to only one production of the play — there are many others offering South Africans work on stage worldwide.

None of South Africa’s white practitioners, who won the majority of last week’s Naledi theatre awards, has had a career that comes anywhere near Morake’s. He is the reigning master of his genre and for his opinion of the theatre industry not to have been tolerated is a cultural shame.

While the Naledi organisers drummed up support from begrudging white theatre luminaries, it has been surprising to hear how many black practitioners have identified with Morake’s sentiments. It was also surprising to hear how threatened they feel that, should they voice their opinions, white managements, who are in the majority, may decide to cast from a less outspoken pool of talent.

A lesson learned during apartheid when so many theatre works were banned should be a lesson remembered today: it is indeed the role of theatre and its people to tell us things we may not wish to hear.

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