Short shrift

Nwabisa Ngcukana was back at Johannesburg’s Noord Street taxi rank last week, the scene of her assault by taxi drivers. Three weeks before, they stripped and beat her for wearing a miniskirt. Last week, she marched at the head of an army of women.

Defiantly dressed in miniskirts, hundreds of women toyi-toyied to the taxi rank where Ngcukana was sexually assaulted and had alcohol poured over her head.

This was the second march in a week by women’s groups, angered by male aggression in public spaces and who say ”enough is enough”. Carrying placards reading ”Humiliating a woman is a sin before God” and ”So gcoka izigcebhe masifuna [We will wear miniskirts when we want]” they sang freedom songs with words such as ”Thina solwela amalungelo ethu [We will fight for our rights]” .

Fundi Ndaba (34), one of the marchers, was angry. ”I’m a mother of two beautiful girls, who love wearing miniskirts,” she said. ”Drivers must be aware that we are going to dress as we please, we need to be able to say no! We are not going to be victimised by taxi drivers whose own daughters [in the rural areas] wear traditional attire that shows the body.”

Dressed in a short white miniskirt and high-heeled shoes, Kekeletso Ledimo (19) was unequivocal: ”If it can happen to other people, it can happen to a member of my family. We want respect from taxi drivers and if this does not stop we will boycott taxis.”

Four days previously, a march, organised by the Remmoho Women’s Forum, was met with disdain by drivers at the rank. Hundreds of drivers burst into Jacob Zuma’s theme tune Umshini Wami and shouted: ”Nifuna ukuhamba nqunu [You still want to walk naked].” They vowed that they would continue to strip women who wore miniskirts, claiming it offended their culture.

Then, to cheers from the crowd, several men stripped naked and flashed their behinds at the marchers. ”They were saying, ‘Nathi siyakwazi ukukhumula zifebe ndini [We know how to strip like these whores]’ … they assured us that no one will enter the rank wearing miniskirts and they even threatened to shoot us,” said Nosipho Twala, of the Remmoho Women’s Forum.

Twala does not believe Ngcukana was attacked because she was wearing a miniskirt, but said it is about men wanting power and control over women. She pointed out the bumper stickers adorning taxis as indicative of the mentality of drivers. ”If women were good, God would have one,” read one.

”One of the taxi drivers said, ‘Gone are the days when girls used to cook with their mothers; now they drink with their fathers,”’ recounted Twala, adding that most men still believe that women belong in the kitchen.

”They were saying we were inviting them to hate women,” she said. ”We feel that if we do not take action now, we will never be able to do so.

”We strongly condemn the barbaric harassment of the young women but we also recognise that this is not an isolated incident. Thousands of women travel by taxi daily. Many of us are treated badly and in many cases we are sexually harassed, abused and even raped.”

While the marches help raise awareness about women’s rights, Ngcukana is not convinced they will be a deterrent.

”The march did raise awareness about these issues, but we are likely to see these kinds of things happening,” she said. ”It is a war between them and us. Those people are not scared of anyone; they do not want to see change at all. If they talk about culture, it changes with the time. Since they ran to culture, let’s invite all the chiefs to address the issue.”

Turn our taxi ranks into safety zones

The Remmoho Women’s Forum marchers made the following demands:

  • That they get a public update on the police’s progress in the search for Nwabisa Ngcukana’s assailants.

  • That the perpetrators of the assault on Ngcukana be charged with rape.

  • That the Noord Street taxi rank be declared a crime hot spot and that a visible police presence be guaranteed.

  • That CCTV cameras be placed in the taxi rank and that they be checked regularly to ensure they are functioning properly.

  • That Noord Street be cleaned up and that the municipality regulate noise levels, cleanliness, lighting, safety and security.

  • That taxi associations develop a code of conduct for the treatment of passengers, particularly women, and that this code be made public.

  • That sexist and demeaning stickers be removed from taxis.

  • That the taxi associations work with women’s groups to develop an education programme on women’s rights for taxi drivers.
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    Zodidi Mhlana
    Guest Author

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