Has common decency become expendable?

Zodwa Wabantu

Zodwa Wabantu

David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
Comical incidents come in many forms and on a variety of occasions and circumstances. There are some people whose antics are thought to border on insanity.

In other words, society generally dismisses them as quirks and oddities on life’s highways. The beauty of this is that if you happen to be such a person you are granted poetic licence and can say anything at any time regardless of who might be there with you.

Listeners of “Chakafukidza Dzimba Matenga” will know where I am coming from. There used to be in Gweru a mother and son pair that was known for pronouncing unspeakable things in polite company.

The son was a commuter omnibus conductor and his passengers were commonly subjected to his irreverent utterances, what Shona-speaking people call “kunyadzisira”.

Passengers learned to ignore him, but he was never confined. Perhaps the best way of handling anti-social behaviour is to see the funny side of things. However, the other side of humour is serious introspection. We propose to do both on this occasion.

The other day I was online and I read a sublime line from someone who calls himself a dissident poet. In our part of the world, we would probably call him a protest poet.

Scott Thomas Outlar recently published a volume of poetry he calls “Songs of a Dissident”. It is a collection of poems with engaging lateral views along the lines of Bob Dylan’s “Even the president of the United States must stand naked sometime”. But what really caught my eye this time was a glancing line in which he made reference to the phenomenon called “Tao”, a Chinese philosophy of life that talks about “just-so-ness”.

For me, the coincidence between Tao and one of Killer T’s songs, a eulogy to the ghetto in which says: That’s how we are/We were like from birth.

Just-so-ness raises the question of whether or not to leave things as they are, no matter what, and never try to change them? Taoism appears to talk about change without changing.

Put simply, all of us experience things that others everywhere similarly experience in their own sphere and time. Thus we are confronted by the realisation that there is nothing new under God’s sun. Paradoxically though, we see a lot of renewal and rejuvenation going on all the time.

The Shona proverb, “Takabvako. Kumhunga hakuna ipwa (We’ve been there. Millet stalks can never become sugar cane)” is of some relevance here. It talks about the sameness of things at all times.

In “As tears go by”, the Rolling Stones’ sing: It is the evening of the day/I sit and watch the children play/Doing things I used to do/ They think are new. Tell this to children and they will have a problem believing you.

A pastor made this observation in a sermon recently. He assured the young ones in the congregation that whatever they were doing was well-known to their parents. Fashion comes and goes then comes again, and so on without end. The young people were amazed that their mothers had once walked around in miniskirts.

In the 2013 elections, former Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai addressed a campaign rally in Muzarabani. At this rally he told off the peasant listeners for opting to vote for others and said something about how many of them had no underwear.

If we follow this logic, we must ask how the absence of undergarments elevates Zodwa the socialite from pesheya kukaNgulukudela (from across the Limpopo).

Sometime in July this year, Zodwa Wabantu walked into the Durban July dressed in an outfit that left nothing to the imagination. Security personnel promptly sent her marching. But of course she got what she wanted: attention! To borrow from today’s parlance, Zodwa went viral. She now gets invited to a multiplicity of functions both social and corporate.

The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority invited her to this year’s carnival. But the Censorship Board would only allow Zodwa in if she was decent and most in her attire. I am positive that those in the lingerie business applauded this intervention.

In the early days of her career, Sandra Ndebele wore skimpy and suggestive traditional outfits and became a brand. We need not have worried. Compared to Zodwa, Sandra was dressed like a grandmother.

No one so much as bats an eyelid about her act these days. What with the likes of Bev and other fleshpot dancers bursting upon the scene and doing unspeakable things on stage in full view of all and sundry.

Dingy smoke-filled joints with near–naked female dancers teasing doting males in broad daylight are commonplace in Harare. By comparison, Bev and the Sexy Angels pale and become dated when seen against the bohemian Zodwa.

Rumour has it that Zodwa is a good time girl. We must give it to her though. There does seem to be some method in her “madness”.

She knows exactly what she’s doing and how to maximise the benefits from the attention she is getting. But to be fair to her, there’s probably nothing spectacular about her behaviour when she is back home in South Africa. Nothing is sacrosanct there.

Topless maidens walking around the countryside and more often than not without some of the encumbrances that society regards as being essential in the interests of female modesty are generally the norm.

Think of the annual reed dance in Swaziland and similar functions in Godwin Zwelithini’s KwaZulu. One way of handling Zodwa is to see her as an artist whose calling card is her provocative attire or lack of it. Like her or not, she does her things like someone well-versed in strategic thinking and planning. She obviously understands the power of brinkmanship, teasing the world just enough to make her a permanent kind of attraction or annoyance depending on where one stands. She seems at ease with all the fall-out from her tempting bravado. Her antics are reminiscent of Madonna in the early years.

Madonna is revered in strategic thinking and planning circles for obtaining what she desired by doing whatever was necessary to promote her interests. All her marriages were strategic in that each one of them took her a rung higher until she didn’t need any pranks anymore. Today Madonna is practically royalty. To some extent Brenda Fassie, that raunchy singer with the gimmicks was Madonna’s kindred spirit. She was a more than endearing singer and dancer who could also be outrageous in her utterances and deportment, something which, among other things, contributed to her bad girl image. In one of her innovative live numbers, Sibongile Khumalo, the jazz maestro prefaces her performance with a reference to Brenda Fassie and tells her in what literary theorists call ‘apostrophe’ (talking to a dead or absent person if she/he were present) that life is going on, whatever the case. According to Sibongile Khumalo, Brenda Fassie said she was not a bad girl. So, who are we to judge? Perhaps she was a bad girl and perhaps she was not such a bad girl after all, the alcoholic binges and drugs notwithstanding. But whichever way one wants to look at it, there does seem to be a liking for the outrageous, and modesty and common decency are being overthrown.

It appears that women have to be more outrageous than men to be noticed. The phatha-phatha dance grew from this factor. You should have seen Aunty Dotty Masuka on stage doing the phatha-phatha with the Golden Rhythm Crooners.

The phatha-phatha was a naughty touch-touch dance in which males were allowed to touch the female star as they danced. Miriam Makeba’s pedigree rose significantly overseas when she took the dance there.

Even Osibisa, the avant garde rock group from Ghana, had their own phatha-phatha song that they played for appreciative audiences across the world. Not too many people are aware just how much Teddy Osei and his Osibisa mates did for Afro-Pop, just as hardly anyone remembers the film that started it all and became the trailblazer for Nollywood movies.

“Love Brewed in an African Pot” was a Ghanaian film that filled cinema houses everywhere. The rest is history!

You hear people say we should not be squeamish about outlandish dressing because our own traditional sense of fashion was a minimalist one. They probably find solace in Dylan’s classic, ‘The times, they are changing’. Disapproval will be seen by others as retrogression. It is not difficult to understand the minimalist view.

Is a San hunter in the Kalahari necessarily savage because he wears only that which makes him decent? Are not most of us overdressed especially in the tropics?

How does Zodwa justify her preference?

She says she feels more natural without that piece of intimate female finery that in some societies has the force of a prescription and can also be quite alluring. Some may not agree.

  • David Mungoshi is a writer and social commentator, an editor and a retired teacher.
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