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Johannesburg - The Vhavenda traditional leadership has denied giving a young woman as a wife to SABC acting chief operations officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
On Sunday, Mudzi wa Vhurereli ha Vhavenda, a lobby group of Venda traditional leaders and healers, reacted angrily to the report, saying that they would never give their royal princess to “a commoner”.
“We gave the entire SABC a cow and a calf. It (the gift) was not directed to a particular individual,” said Masindi Mulovhedzi, one of the Mudzi members.
The Mudzi had travelled from Thohoyandou in Limpopo to Joburg to “clarify the lies”.
The Sowetan newspaper reported on June 13 that about “10 girls” were made to parade in Thohoyandou for Motsoeneng to choose a wife, in addition to receiving a cow and a calf.
Motsoeneng and other SABC executives were in Limpopo to meet the traditional leadership.
“All the girls were there with their parents. Their parents knew what was going to happen and they all agreed. He chose the one he liked,” Mudzi executive secretary Humbelani Nemakonde was quoted as having said.
The Women’s Ministry and the Commission on Gender Equality are investigating the matter.
The woman at the centre of what has become a cultural storm is Vanessa Mutswari, 23, a college student and a local beauty queen.
The traditional leadership were spitting fire on Sunday.
“A wife cannot be given to any ordinary person. A chief is entitled to choose two or more girls with pre-arrangement with the parents… She (Vanessa) will not marry a commoner… It’s taboo,” said Ndifelani Mutswari, an executive member of Mudzi and the young woman’s grandmother.
“She (Vanessa) is finishing her studies next year. Her (intended) husband is a rich person. What do I want from the SABC?” Mutswari asked.
Mulovhedzi said the report had incensed Venda King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana, under whose chieftaincy the Mudzi fall.
“You (media) have destroyed us. We are worn down, we are bleeding because of the lies. We feel we have been stripped naked.”
Mulovhedzi said Vanessa had merely been among the four girls – and not 10, as reported – who were ushering the procession when the cow and calf were being presented to the SABC executives.
“According to Venda culture, a wife cannot be given. It’s disgusting (to say) that we Vhavenda can give a wife.”
Vanessa said the reports had jeopardised her marriage to her future husband.
As she began to speak, Dr Gladys Nethengwe, the Mudzi language and culture adviser, interjected: “She has her own husband who has proposed. How on earth can she accept something (else)?”
Vanessa said: “I was never given to anybody as a gift. And the Vendas don’t give a wife as a gift… To be honest, somebody destroyed my marriage.
“I have explained to my future husband that that is an allegation and not true. But because it’s in the newspapers, on TV, on radio, it’s not easy.”
Describing herself as proud of her Venda culture, she said the reports almost led to her being ostracised.
“I am being accused of destroying... Venda culture. I am a strong woman and nobody will destroy me. I will sit down and talk to my future husband.”
Journalists had a bit of a rude cultural awakening at Sunday’s media briefing. They were ordered to remove their shoes and kneel down as the Mudzi performed their cultural rituals and invoked ancestral spirits.
They wore bright traditional attire, while Vanessa and a relative, Ndivhaleni Mutswari, were bare-breasted.
Each item on the agenda was punctuated by the loud ululating of the women, who sometimes had to lie down.
The Mudzi indicated they wanted the Sowetan to retract the allegations, but the newspaper said it stood by its story.