Johannesburg - Nomathemba Hlongwane pulled her pants and underwear down and flashed her ample backside at passing motorists and onlookers.
Her defiant action on Wednesday morning went right round the world, with The Star’s afternoon edition story and picture coverage picked up by international media, including the BBC.
Social media went into a frenzy.
Hlongwane’s protest happened in peak-hour traffic next to police officers who were standing nearby.
The Diepkloof hostel resident then danced and jiggled her buttocks on the busy Chris Hani Road in Soweto, and flashed her crotch for all and sundry to see.
She was angry that the toilet buckets in her hostel had not been emptied in three months.
“We don’t have toilets and it’s better if we poop on the road just so that everyone can see how we are suffering,” she said.
Some motorists and passengers in minibus taxis registered horror at the sight of Hlongwane. Others appeared amused, and still others hooted.
Many commenting on social media have questioned her actions, but a researcher with a wealth of experience on protests said Hlongwane’s actions were a desperate cry for help.
Trevor Ngwane, a community activist and social researcher, did his master’s degree research on protest and is now doing his PhD on protests in informal settlements.
He said the fact that Hlongwane bared her body for all to see showed that she felt socially and economically exposed and vulnerable and would, therefore, go to great lengths to bring attention to her plight.
Ngwane said what Hlongwane did was not a “nice thing”, but he added that some people in Europe liked to protest naked.
Poor people who felt they weren’t being listened to always found desperate ways to appeal for attention, said Ngwane.
“It could be that they feel the government doesn’t want to address their issues and that this medium of expression will force it to act. The only way her actions should be viewed is with empathy,” he said.
The hostel residents, who had gathered on the road since 1am on Wednesday, said all they wanted were decent housing, toilets, electricity and water – which had been promised but were never delivered.
The demonstrators emptied full buckets of excrement on the road and burnt tyres.
The hostel dwellers said they were tired of their living conditions. As they don’t have dustbins, they throw their rubbish next to the hostel. Some windows are broken.
The hostel units have two walls, and the outer wall in some units has collapsed.
Built quite high, the foundations are also collapsing.
Sanele Msibi, a community leader, said they used to pay R20 rent, but stopped paying when the hostel deteriorated.
Hlongwane wasn’t the only one who bared her all on Thursday morning. Hlengiwe Dlamini also did.
The 32-year-old woman, who has been living at the hostel for 11 years, also squatted on the road with her pants pulled down, simulating an act of relieving herself.
Dlamini, who was aware of the police officers nearby, said they would not dare arrest her for public indecency. She wanted the authorities to see how she was struggling.
“We want to poop on the road so the government can see that we don’t have toilets. If I was pressed, I would have definitely pooped here,” she said.
Msibi said although 90 percent of hostel residents were unemployed, they were expected to move into units they could not afford.
“The Diepkloof rental units were completed in 2009, but to date no one lives there, they are empty. All that the councillor does is to give us empty promises,” he said.
The councillor, Solly Mogase, disagreed. He claimed he was aware that a lot of people at the hostel were employed, adding that some police officers and government officials lived at the hostel.
“It’s a lie. Our assessments show that many people who live there work. Our agreement with them was that the first phase will be the rental units and the future developments will be mixed units, where there’ll be rental, rent-to-buy and RDP units,” Mogase said.
He agreed the toilets had not been emptied and said this was wrong as it was a health hazard.
“This problem with the toilets is a genuine one. I had informed the department and I thought they had been emptied. I later found out that the contractor claimed he had not been paid, and that’s why he did not empty them,” Mogase said.