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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 18:19 GMT
Swazi women bare bottoms to police
Mbabane was back to normal on Thursday
Mbabane was back to normal on Thursday

Little did the lone Swaziland police officer know what he was letting himself in for when he attempted to arrest a group of women fruit and vegetable vendors.

He had found them selling their goods at the central bus rank packed with rush-hour commuters in the capital, Mbabane.

All together, the women turned their backs, bent over and lifted their dresses above their waists, baring their bottoms to the police

The vendors usually keep a watchful eye out for city rangers and police, who conduct periodic raids in their vain efforts to enforce a ban on unlicensed traders in the city.

When the police officer appeared, the women vendors grabbed their boxes of fruit and vegetables and ran helter skelter through the crowds to escape.

However one buxom woman was too slow and was grabbed by the police officer who arrested her and tried to force her into the back of a police van.

Staring in disbelief

Astonished eye-witnesses said she resisted violently, fighting like a wounded tiger, kicking and punching and swearing at the perspiring officer and shedding her clothes to escape being dragged into the van.

It was then things took a turn for the worse, as crowds of onlookers and other women vendors came to her rescue, pelting the policeman with missiles to hand - stones, fruit, drink cans and mealie cobs.

As the officer covered his head with his hands, the women vendors screamed insults at him, telling him that he and his colleagues had received their education through money earned by their mothers also selling their goods in the streets.

Fearing for his safety, the policeman pulled out his gun and fired a warning shot in the air.

Alerted by the noise, reinforcements of baton-wielding policemen and police women rushed to the scene.

After a few scuffles they dispersed the crowd and rescued their colleague.

The women vendors, however, still angry regrouped defiantly in front of the police officers.

Then, all together, the women turned their backs, bent over and lifted their dresses above their waists, baring their bottoms to the police - in Swazi culture, the ultimate insult.

The police officers stared in disbelief at the array of bottoms of all different shapes and sizes, and the colourful array of underwearon display.

Many of the vendors were back in town again on Thursday morning as though nothing had happened.

Members of the public I spoke to praised the restraint shown by the police on Wednesday.

See also:

04 Dec 02 | Africa
18 Nov 02 | Africa
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