24 November 1999

South Africa: Rural woman march naked to protest against chief

Malelane — Twenty-four women - four of them carrying babies - were hauled before the Tonga Magistrate's Court on Wednesday for walking naked in protest against a local chief, African Eye News Service (South Africa) reports.

The women, aged between 19 and 50, are from Buffelspruit near Schoemansdal, south of Malelane. They were arrested on Monday when they demonstrated against Chief Matsamo Shongwe, demanding more land for growing mealies.

Stripping by female protesters is regarded in rural areas as a show of defiance and contempt.

Schoemansdal police station spokesman Inspector Robert Sibiya said the women were not asked to plead to charges of public indecency, and an illegal march along the Jeppe's Reef road leading to the Matsamo border post with Swaziland.

They were each granted bail of R500, and the case was postponed for trial on December 20.

None of them could raise the money, and they are in custody. The four babies are being breast-fed, and are in the cells with their mothers.

Sibiya said the march was linked to a two-year land dispute between cattle and mealie farmers that usually became more intense during the rainy season. He said fences of farmers in both camps were recently cut, and they laid charges of malicious damage to property against each other.

"We are still investigating, and have not yet arrested any suspects," said Sibiya. He added the women first marched to a local school where they stripped naked in front of the principal, who is chairman of the local cattle farmers' organisation, and his pupils.

Sibiya said the principal ran onto the Jeppe's Reef but the women chased him, and blocked the road.

He added surprised motorists were forced to pull over and stop, and called the police.

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