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Seminude School Performance Sparks Debate About Tradition in South Africa

The performance raised questions about the uneasy balance between cultural appreciation and modern views of dignity and female empowerment. The episode also highlighted the unintended consequences of digital technology, which, in this case, spread local images to a far wider, even global, audience.

The so-called reed dance is performed each year in seminudity in other rural societies in Swaziland and in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province. The form of dress using a small apron is also widespread in traditional Ndebele culture.

But a reader on The Daily Dispatch’s website said: “All this needs to stop. When people blindly follow ‘culture’ they do not even know the origins or reasons for the culture. The origins are usually exploitative.

Seminude School Performance Sparks Debate About Tradition in South Africa
Seminude School Performance Sparks Debate About Tradition in South Africa

“How is this not pedophilia masquerading as culture, and why is it a man saying that he is proud of Xhosa women and girls as if they were his objects? A choirmaster gets schoolgirls to strip. Why is he not in jail?”

A report published this past week by the Ministry of Basic Education on how history is taught in South African schools, ordered by Ms. Motshekga three years ago, highlights an issue at the center of the dispute.

In a land long haunted by its past — from the depredations of colonialists to the imposition of apartheid cementing white rule — and grappling with the effects of racism, colonialism and apartheid, “little attention has been paid to gender issues,” the report said.

Decades after Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president, in 1994, it said, “the previous emphasis on ‘great white’ men has simply been replaced with ‘great black men.’ ”

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