By ALUTHA WA AZANIA in South Africa / GRACE MUTANDWA in Zimbabwe
A feminist “who prefers no underwear” has captivated South Africa’s social scene.
Even beyond her home country, in the Southern Africa region, her “controversial” dance moves are a scintillating and topical issue.
Socialite Zodwa Rebecca Libram, popularly known as Zodwa Wabantu, has changed the regional entertainment landscape and carved a name for herself by challenging the conventional definition of a ‘decent woman’.
While the 32-year-old entertainer’s no underwear policy has bagged her fame and wealth, it has also seen her attacked by the morality police. In neighbouring Zimbabwe where she was set to perform at an annual carnival, she found resistance in the form of a Zimbabwean television drama actress, Anne Nhira. The actress sought to have Zodwa barred from participating in the government-sponsored carnival, an act that saw the Zimbabwean Cabinet debate whether or not to allow Zodwa into the country.
Zimbabwean authorities claimed Zodwa’s signature look – short dress with no panties – would violate the country’s laws, especially the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (Chapter10:04) section 16.
As the controversy raged, Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi, told a private Sunday weekly, The Standard, that: “Her association, directly or indirectly with the Harare International Carnival, a government-conceived and approved branding and entertainment event, means the government is essentially the stage.”
Mzembi added, “And by the way, stages are very powerful communication platforms and therefore we could not be seen promoting how she brands her dancing through nudity or creating peeping Toms out of her audiences. (The) government can’t be that big peeping Tom or facilitator of such.”
Some of the arguments advanced by some government officials were that allowing Zodwa to participate would offend traditional leaders. However, it is ironic that the South African entertainer was barred from a carnival that celebrates women in nothing but skimpy and racy lingerie.
The whole argument of what constitutes morality is relative and terribly flawed. In this case, Zimbabwe has exhibited a false sense of morality determined by stature and position. When socialites such as Zodwa dare to perform in high-density suburbs or low social status areas they are labelled prostitutes or women of loose morals, but when they go to a private lounge their act is suddenly deemed adult entertainment.
It was clear that those in search of high moral fibre would certainly struggle to find it at a carnival where even the police had lifted a ban on public drinking.
Ironically, Nhira’s sense of morality was offended by Zodwa’s disdain of underwear but not by the “dress code” of Brazilian and Cuban Samba dancers invited to the same occasion. Somehow the Latin American dancers in nothing but saucy lingerie met her definition of high moral standards.
It is tragic that in 2017 a whole government is seized with the issue of whether or not a female dancer should wear panties. That the government responded with such enthusiasm to the prudish whims of another woman makes it sadder and even more tragic.
Zodwa is an entertainer who carved a niche market for herself. There is nothing sinister in her choice of what defines her. She embraces both her beauty and her flaws.
Speaking to the Sowetan newspaper she said she wanted to proudly own the fact that she does not wear any underwear – and to flaunt her cellulite with pride.
“The inspiration behind it is that I wanted to be sexy and bold,” Zodwa explained. “I wanted to show I don’t really wear a panty. In the photos my cellulite is clearly visible; I wanted to show women we don’t have to hide what we are.”
She said in a short space of time she had managed to highlight the difficulties faced by women in the entertainment industry across Africa. A shrewd business woman, Zodwa, charges between R10 000 – R25 000 to appear at an event. Just before the Harare carnival she visited Zimbabwe where she appeared at a private club. She was booked for another appearance at a night club in Zimbabwe which was cancelled last minute because some sponsors of an event at the club were pulling out in protest of her presence. Zodwa claimed she was asked to explain away the cancellation by telling fans that she was “too sick to perform”.
Zodwa’s story reeks of double standards. The same men who drool over and enjoy watching scantily dressed western entertainers in music or films are the ones quick to admonish Zodwa. Those who control what should or should not be seen have the privilege of cherry-picking what is good or bad for the masses. In this day and age of the internet and social media, it makes no sense to police people’s morality.
Zodwa is simply embracing her womanhood and expressing her sexuality. Nhira has a right to being a prude but that right ends where Zodwa’s right not to wear panties begins. What a woman wears or chooses not to wear under her clothes is her business. Morality police have no right at a carnival anyway.
Zodwa was invited by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority to perform at a carnival, not a nunnery and the rules of engagement are very different. The weak argument that tourists would be put off by the likes of Zodwa is simply that – a weak argument. It has no legs to stand on. Tourists scared of women who choose not to wear underwear should go on religious pilgrimages.
Orphaned at the age of 9, Zodwa’s story of fame started simply. Reports say during the “Vodacom Durban July” party held at Greyville Racecourse, Zodwa set tongues wagging after she wore a black figure-hugging dress that had a high slit revealing her thighs. That day Zodwa found herself. She walked in the footsteps of women who burnt their bras. They refused to be shackled and to this day some women refuse to wear bras and it is their right to do so.
Zodwa’s only crime is that she is an African woman and African patriarchy demands that women live for men, dress for men and when they do undress that they do so for men. The fact that she refuses to conform riles men who want to control her sexuality. What women wear or choose not to wear under their clothes is a political statement of being, a consciousness of who they choose to be.
Main Image credits: Facebook @OfficialZodwaWabantu