/ 6 February 2009

Hats off at Parliament opening

There were some interesting hats at Friday’s opening of Parliament, but nothing to scare the pigeons as much as the 21-gun salute did.

MPs sported a mix of traditional dress, afro-chic, and more conventional designer- and store-bought outfits.

One of the most striking was Democratic Alliance (DA) MP and ambassador-designate to Bulgaria Sheila Camerer, who wore a traditional-style Xhosa dress in cerulean blue, matching her blue eyes, with black trim and a blue bead choker.

”I’m already in ambassador mode, wearing national dress,” joked Camerer, who in previous years has opted for Western-style dresses and wide-brimmed hats.

”I asked the deputy president, and she sent me to the person who did hers. So there you are.”

And in reply to comments on the absence of a hat, she said: ”I don’t wear a doek.”

However, fashion guru Gavin Rajah was unimpressed.

”Exceptionally contrived,” he said of her outfit.

African National Congress (ANC) MP Mwelo Nonkonyana and his wife Shuki were also in traditional dress, this time Pondo.

Nonkonyana, who is general secretary of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) as well as a chief of the Bhala clan, wore an isishoba, or beaded white skirt, and ropes of beads round his neck.

”Pondo culture has been suppressed for some time,” he said. ”Many people see us as a sub-unit of the Xhosa, which we are not.

”So I need to promote their culture and language, and their tradition, how they dress.”

Contralesa president Patekile Holomisa, on the other hand, arrived in a black suit, in what he said was a protest against the fact that Parliament did not properly recognise the 13 traditional kings in South Africa.

”When they are formally and properly invited to occasions such as this, I will be dressing fully as a Xhosa traditional leader,” he said.

His wife Bukelwa wore a red and grey silk dress, with a matching hat festooned with red and grey feathers.

One of the most spectacular hats of the morning crowned diminutive ANC MP Maggie Sotyu, a wide-brimmed pink creation with a silver lurex band and flounces that caught the sunlight, topped by pink ostrich feathers.

She said it had been made for the occasion by Nova Hats of Cape Town, at a cost of R800.

She added that she usually she commissioned a special dress for the opening, but this year, election campaigning had left her no time to go to her designer.

Instead she went to Truworths, bought a dress there, took it to Nova and asked them to make something to go with it.

”I said I wanted a big hat with feathers,” she said. ”I’m 100% pleased.”

DA leader Helen Zille, in a red printed chiffon tunic belted over fuchsia silk palazzo pants, with matching fuchsia high-heeled sandals adorned with artificial flowers, had no hat.

”Because it’s too hot for a hat,” she explained. ”I’ve got a beautiful hat but it’s too hot.”

Lydia Meshoe, wife of African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe, opted for a less spectacular turban in lime green and brown, but more than made up for it with a lime green handbag on a gold chain that was by far the longest on display.

Former ANC MP Tony Yengeni’s love of fine clothes did not appear to have been dampened by the months he spent in prison garb after his fraud conviction.

He wore a straw homburg with a black band, a shiny black suit and open-necked pink shirt along with his trademark sunglasses, and though he paused briefly for photographers, he declined to speak to journalists.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Suzanne Vos had a politically incorrect ivory bracelet on one wrist, but explained it had been given to her mother by her father.

She wore a black suit with white polka dots.

”It’s very old,” she said. ”None of us have time to have outfits made. Or, I certainly don’t.”

Most of the men opted for suits, as did Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder.

”It’s very difficult,” he said. ”I asked someone what is Afrikaner traditional, and they’re still puzzling it out.

”The problem is, if you go for khaki you’re in trouble; you’re AWB [Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging].”

ANC MP Jonas Sibanyoni, also in a suit, said he wore full Ndebele traditional dress last year, but no one took any notice of him.

”So I’m looking British this year,” he said. — Sapa