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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 August, 2004, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
How Mandela changed SA fashion
By Fred Khumalo
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela's Madiba shirt started the trend
Forget about his political feats - 10 years ago Nelson Mandela revolutionised fashion in South Africa's parliament.

Before 1994, you could have mistaken parliamentary sessions in South Africa for an unlikely contest of whose suit is the greyest or whose hat has the biggest brim

But then came Mr Mandela. He sashayed into the hallowed halls wearing what became known around the world as the Madiba shirt - a colourful combination of white or black or green or yellow or red; sometimes all of these colours.

There are now a number of fashion outlets specialising in Madiba shirts, even though the original was designed and made by Yusuf Surtee, who is still the former president's personal designer.

But then, Surtee copied the design from an Indonesian designer.

Walking barefoot

With Madiba having paved the way for a fashion revolution, many parliamentarians dumped their dark suits, and the ladies chucked away the Queen Elizabeth-style and big-brimmed hats reminiscent of Mexican sombreros.

The grey suits of old are definitely out
The grey suits of old are definitely out
Now they walk into parliament wearing Xhosa-style headgear, Erykah Badu-style turbans, hair done in stylish dreadlocks and sheeny hairdos with interesting names such as S-curl, braids, cornrows, switch, relaxer, dry perm, bonding, yankee, and weave.

Tony Yengeni, the former ANC parliamentary chief whip, used to walk into parliament wearing what white people would call a skirt or a kilt - except that it's neither.

It is called umbhaco, a traditional Xhosa skirt for males.

Mr Yengeni used to be naked from waist up, his whisky belly bare for all to see, and his face was painted in the traditional Xhosa way.

Meanwhile, when Nosimo Balindlela was sworn in as premier for the Eastern Cape province a few months ago, she showed up draped in colourful Xhosa attire of flowing skirts, a cape and headgear - and she traipsed down the hallowed halls of the provincial legislature on her bare feet.

"Walking barefoot reminds me that I belong to the earth," she told BBC World Service's Focus On Africa magazine.

Another who has embraced the trend is Jay Naidoo, who, while he was communications minister, used to appear in his Nehru collar jacket.

And Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, ditched the short conservative hairstyle of his predecessors for the greasy American soul singer style perm.

Sober-suited Mbeki

South Africa's government even had a fashion connoisseur in Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former home affairs minister.

Mr Buthelezi has showed up in parliament in a variety of attires, ranging from Western-style suits to West African free-flowing shirts. He has also turned up for work in a classy soft leather jacket.

Aziz Pahad, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, continues the Jay Naidoo tradition of Nehru collars.

Thabo Mbeki walks into South Africa's Parliament
The entrance to Parliament can resemble a catwalk
He alternates these with West African shirts. His superior, the minister of foreign affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, sometimes wears in parliament a Zulu-style hat, called isicholo.

The new speaker of the house, Baleka Mbete, appeared at the celebration to mark 10 years of democracy in a garish outfit comprised of an orange-coloured turban with a lemon fringe, a lemon jacket, lemon shoes and an orange skirt with a black fringe.

Thank goodness there were no bees around.

But there are still some sober outfits in the parliament building.

Current president Thabo Mbeki is content with a Western-style suit, and has given the Madiba shirt a wide berth.

But then, considering his height, a Madiba shirt would look like a dress on him.

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