By Gift Phiri
HARARE – Miniskirts in all styles — mod, flirty, kicky, sporty and even formal — were on full display in Harare’s streets yesterday.
Members of a pressure group, Katswe Sisterhood, staged a highly controversial march to voice their concern against attacks on women wearing shorter hemlines at minibus ranks environs.
In a march dubbed “Reclaiming our streets”, hundreds of marchers against women abuse swung the pendulum the other way when they put on miniskirts and very, very short baby doll dresses, so short that touts shrugged, but with some ratcheting up the insults.
The day started early as we headed to the march, with two of my female colleagues, reporter Wendy Muperi and photojournalist Annie Mpalume.
Given the buzz the miniskirt march had created on State radio and social media, it was an assignment any young, male journalist would welcome, right?
In Harare, usually, the legs don’t come out en masse until at least its evening, and you have to pay.
So, here was an opportunity to see Harare’s skimpiest, without having to pay an entrance fee! To be honest, I hoped I could simply enjoy the view, or gauge the reaction of touts to this highly provocative march.
The Katswe Sisterhood march started at Town House.
The march was under heavy police escort, praise God.
I was struck with some of the marchers pairing a sexy mini with platform high heels, something which most touts shouted was veering into lady-of-the-night territory.
Curiously, some of the marchers pitched up in knee-length numbers or, dare I say it, a maxi dress!
We rolled up to the Copacabana rank with my eyes peeled and Annie’s camera handy. The mass gathering of miniskirts obviously provoked a reaction from the touts.
“Hure, hure, hure (Prostitute, prostitute, prostitute),” the touts shouted.
“Hure ndimai vako (Your mother is the prostitute),” one of female marchers shot back.
The protestors, waving placards inscribed “Real men protect women”, “Ikodzero yedu kupfeka zvatoda”, “My body, not your body”, “Your lust is not my problem”, the marchers proceeded to Market Square, turned the corner into the rank and were jeered by touts.
Singing “hatidi zvekupihwa order nemasascum (we won’t take orders from fools),” the women made it clear the advances were unwanted.
The touts yelled after them, with kombi (minibus) drivers honking their horns. The men seemed to be enjoying the spectacle, while the women ignored the stream of nasty comments.
Now singing, “akatadza kutengera mai vake miniskirt, haanyare (he failed to buy his mum a miniskirt, he should be ashamed)”, the women brought traffic to a standstill.
One tout shouted: “Saka Gumbura ngaabude mujereka? (Then you must set Gumbura free from prison),” referring to Robert Martin Gumbura, the RMG Independent End Time Message Church leader who was jailed this year for an effective 40 years on five counts of raping his congregants.
Another tout shouted, “This is nonsense.”
“Varikufurirwa nezvivarungu izvo.(They are being misled by those whites),” shouted another tout, referring to a handful of white marchers that were part of the demo.
“Mahure chete, hapana mukadzi wemunhu apa (These are all prostitutes, there is no married woman here),” another tout shouted. The comments agitated the women further, who raised the tempo of their signing.
“Taneta neAids, hatichada (We are tired of Aids, we don’t want this),” another tout chipped in.
“Its my body, not yours, shut up,” shot back one of the female protestors.
“Hwindi iwe dzora moyo (Touts should have a change of heart),” the women broke into song.
Yesterday’s march was organised after several young women were harassed by a mob of men at various minibus ranks in the city centre.
As the marchers left the Market Square minibus rank, they were hounded by a large group of men who jeered, with some attempting to grope them, but with police maintaining order.
“Mudzoke mapurisa aenda muone (Come back when the police are gone and see what will happen),” one tout warned, ominously.
The crowd of hundreds of women continued marching slowly back towards Copacabana rank. The march was led by Talent Jumo, director of Katswe Sisterhood. Jumo was putting on a very short red skirt and wedge shoes that provoked a frenzied reaction.
As the group entered the so-called “mushikashika” near Copacabana, where small cars pick up commuters to Parirenyatwa hospital, they provoked cheers from interested onlookers.
While the protesters were almost all women, many men turned out to watch them pass. A few joked about the march’s concept.
“Ngavafambe vakapfeka mag-string tinyatsavaona (They should rather parade in g-strings only),” one tout said.
Another shouted: “Nhasi vari paspecial offer, hapana loitering, nhasi for free (They are on special offer, they are not getting arrested for loitering, you can have sexual conference with any of these prostitutes for free).”
The march also attracted political undertones.
One elderly man, remarked: “VaMugabe vakarega nyika ichidai, zvinozoita here? (President Mugabe cannot allow this to happen.)”
In a snap interview with the Daily News on Sunday, Jumo said all women shall have the right to be flattered by a frugal skirt without harassment from anyone.
“We are reclaiming our streets, communicating the message that Zimbabwe is our home too, we should be free in our city,” she said.
“We refuse to have no-go-zones for women, we will not accept it. As women, we want to walk freely. We hope to sustain this momentum.”
The march ended with speeches outside Town House.
Jumo said the march was intended to emphasise that women had the right to wear what they wished and should not be demeaned or victimised over their choice of clothes. She said women deserve to have their rights respected at minibus ranks.
All the speakers condemned the harassment and abuse women regularly face, and called on society and government to uphold their rights.
As the women spoke at Town House, one man shouted: “Holy ghost fire!”
Some men said they was nothing wrong with miniskirts. It was, however, a sentiment not shared by many of the male onlookers.
While miniskirts are no longer relegated only to younger wearers, the new mini trend can be worn by anyone who feels they have the legs for it.
One young man said they were not worried with elderly women spotting mini skirts. He shouted: “Imi hamuna basa, tirikurambidza vasikana (We don’t care about you old women wearing miniskirts, we are stopping the girls only.)”
The march was something to gawk at on a Saturday morning rather than an issue to engage with.
Most of the men said they knew women who have been abused and harassed at the minibus ranks, and agree they should be respected.
But when it comes to rallying for their rights, it seems we would rather stand back, lean against a fence and check out the miniskirts.
We would rather make jokes than ask ourselves what our values are and whether we are defending them.
Rather than standing up against abuse at a minibus rank, whether it is Copacabana or Market Square, we silently condemn the abusers and let the harassment continue.
From reactions at yesterday’s demo, there is a sense that demand for women to parade in miniskirts is being met with cheers in some corners and groans in others.
The young and leggy — and their admirers — often view the look favourably.
Others prefer more coverage.
But these days, fashion is all about choice. After all, no hemline is obligatory. Daily News