The village of Werda in Kgalagadi District is in a state of division due to a newly imposed dress code by the village’s tribal administration, which requires all women to wear head scarves within Kgotla premises.
The mixed race community of Verda which identifies as Coloured is challenging this decision, which according to them is discriminatory and condescending to the their norms and practices.
On Monday, a job-seeking woman was turned back from an interview at the Tribal Administration on the basis of dressing inappropriately at the Kgotla because she was not wearing a head covering,an act which sparked a protest from the minority community that has complained of marginalisation for decades and have even alleged that they been denied voting rights in election processes.
This bias has been taken up with human rights organisations Ditshwanelo and Emang Basadi, with threats to take the to take the tribal administration to court should they not get help from the NGOS
“The Tswana are imposing their own cultural biases on us and are inordinately hindering our basic human rights such as our right to work,” explained self-proclaimed activist and spokesperson for the Coloured community in Werda Johannes Visagie.
“In our culture, we have no historical or sacred attachment to the head-wrap. Instead, we find women’s natural hair to be a sacred God-given covering, a belief and practice which should not be taken away from us.”
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Visagie disagrees with the notion that as citizens of Botswana, they must abide by and adopt the Tswana cultural practices, forsaking their own, for the sake of peace. “It is absurd to expect us to turn away from our culture! We were the first people to arrive on this land in 1938 and we made room for the same people who are looking down on us today,”she said
He firmly stated that his community does not regard themselves peculiar or in need of special attention, but is anguished over the subjection to ill treatment, prejudice and discrimination. “We are simply calling for justice out of fear of having our culture eroded and ourselves cast away.”
The woman, who is still reeling from the disappointment of being turned away from a job she desperately needed, also emphasised that the Kgotla had become tribalistic, with their constitutional rights trampled upon.
Some Tswana members of the Werda community dismissed the claims of tribalism. “The chief’s word has always been law and these people are not willing to bend over to that. We also do not like wearing dresses but respect the customary court and abide by its rules, so should they.”
Werda Tribal Administration lines rang unanswered when reached for comment. Ditshwanelo and Emang Basadi were yet to sit down with the community to get a proper understanding of the matter.