By: Tshepo Matseba
A doek is a cultural mark, a spiritual expression and a badge of pride for women in Africa and the world.
Historically, a headwrap was a symbol of slavery imposed on African American women by their masters. Popularly referred to as tuku in Sesotho, dhuku in Shona, duku in Chichewam, and iduku in isiZulu, the headwrap has rich cultural significance within the African communities. In Nigeria, the Yoruba call it gele, which is commonly made out of fabric that is wrapped into a unique shape, often matching with a full outfit. A doek or Tuku is therefore an accessory for millions of women in Africa and in the diaspora for special occasions.
A few years ago, journalist, lifestyle and entertainment reporter Nontobeko Sibisi had a conflict with her employer, a national free-to-air broadcaster, because she chose to wear a headwrap on Africa Day, to symbolise it’s significance amongst African women. Her story was initially pulled from the channel as a headwrap was not aligned to the company policy. The channel later confirmed that the story was aired repeatedly, stating that the decision not to air the story had been made by an employee who was out of the country at the time.
In her own words, Sibisi says: “As Black people working in corporate spaces, we are restricted on how we culturally and traditionally express ourselves. In fact, we are muted and sometimes ‘granted’ select days to be the people we holistically are as Abantu,” she says, adding that it is outrageous for African’s to be treated “in this manner, in their own land. This is absurd and can’t be in Africa. It is necessary to disrupt the status quo. The system was never ours nor for us – so we must continue to disrupt with our doeks, my isiphandla, my hijab, my chiskop after a death, my Shembe beard, my twasing beads,” laments Sibisi.
“Who we are may be ‘foreign’ to corporate gatekeepers but best believe, we are all standing guard and chipping away at this oppressive system. We are powerful as black people and we are presently taking initiatives to liberate our people. Our plans will go beyond corporates – we are going to disrupt so that our children don’t have to get approval about to wear nor to wear a doek in any business and social context,” Sibisi says. “I said no, because it was inhumane and a completely backward policy that disregarded our cultural context and inherently who we are,” she concludes. Sibisi’s protest earned her the support of millions of women in South Africa for upholding African symbols.
Basadi ka Dituku
One such special occasion was, Basadi ka Dituku(women in headwraps), which took place on Saturday, 24 August 2019 at Soweto Theatre in Jabulani, Soweto. In its fourth year, the gathering was inspired by Sibisi’s story. Basadi Ka Dituku was crafted as a movement to dispel negative perceptions about the context within which dituku can be worn. The idea was to allow women to showcase different styles which are increasingly worn across business, social and global events. With over 3500 women wearing dituku, the event was sold out three days prior, and showcased South Africa’s leading artists including Jaziel Brothers, Fikile Mlomo, and Ntombey’ningi with Refiloe Motsei as the MC.
Founders of the event, Lungile Masondo and Prince Tshabalala expressed their gratitude to the women who grace the event every year, seeing the growth of the event which started with less than a thousand women. “The dream for Basadi Ka Dituku movement is headed to greater heights and larger numbers because if we amplify the crowds of women the message is better heard. Gone are the days where women have little or no place in society,” said Lungile Masondo.
Through the growth of the movement, the Basadi Ka Dituku team supports the JoziFM CSI program for the Princess Campaign, a sanitary towel drive that aims to support less fortunate children who are in rural areas and cannot afford to buy sanitary towels. The event also provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their products, ranging from mobile charging stations to arts, car exhibitions and catering.
“We’re looking forward to a more sophisticated version in 2020, but we remain humble and relevant to our people. Basadi Ka Dituku,”said Prince Tshabalala in conclusion.