You may have missed this piece of world news today. South Africa's governing party has declared that eating sushi off the body of a model in a bikini is "politically incorrect," according to the AP. What led up to this announcement? In recent months, wealthy South African businessmen and socialites had been engaging in "nyotaimori," the practice of serving sashimi or sushi on a woman's body. It became a national -- and eventually international -- story when some high-level officials reportedly attended a party that included nyotaimori this past weekend. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said in a statement that "this act is defamatory, insensitive and undermining of woman's integrity," and we oppose it.
The Times, a South African publication, has been watching this scandal unfold for months. Here, a timeline of the events that have led up to today's announcement.
Oct. 29, 2010: "Last Thursday, Kenny Kunene spent R700,000 on his 40th birthday party at the upmarket ZAR Lounge nightclub, which he owns. His party featured models, who were painted grey, strutting around in lingerie," reports The Times. "Another model was draped on a table, and party-goers nibbled sushi served on her stomach." Some, led by union official Zwelinzima Vavi, point out that some public figures were in attendance at the party and this represents the deep divide between the wealthy and poor in the country. Kunene, a nightclub owner, defends himself to critics, saying he's entitled to spend his money however he wishes. "It's honest money and we were having honest fun," he says. He also claims that Vavi was jealous he wasn't invited.
Oct. 31: If people are so concerned about the models in lingerie, Kunene tells The Times, why don't they "complain when women are displayed all over music videos, pageants and TV shows, wearing the same garments"? He says he's not exploiting women. "I respect women, and was only trying to create jobs for those ladies, who are models," Kunene adds.
Nov. 1: Abdul Madoda Milazi, a Times blogger, reports that Kunene is being called "Mr. Sushi." Milazi also stands behind the party and nyotaimori. "This begs the question: Is it wrong for blacks to want to get as rich as white people, and throw lavish parties? If so what is actually wrong with it?" Milazi asks. "The sole purpose of wanting to be rich is to enjoy luxuries that are out of your reach."
But Phumla Matjila doesn't agree. She says in The Times that nyotaimori may have started as an elite status symbol but today it "has become the piece de resistance of seedy sex clubs." The "fad" has gone global -- even Brad Pitt and George Clooney have tried it, says Matjila. "The pictures I saw splashed on our newspapers last week left me mortified. They took the objectification of women up 100 notches... The whole practice of body sushi makes me cringe."
Nov. 2: Blogger Milazi responds in The Times to "feminists" who "have a problem with the way the sushi was served." The models agreed to pose, after all. "I say if people male or female don't mind being objectified for a fee, they have all the rights to do so," he says.
Nov. 11: A reference to the party finds its way into The Times to illustrate how dire the economic situation is for some in the country. "Times are tough," says Carlos Amato, and football teams need to recognize that. "They should have observed that the mamas outside the stadium gates are not selling pap en sushi nestled in the cleavages of lingerie models."
Nov. 14: Kunene remains a controversial figure for his spending habits, reports The Times. He says that his October party pales in comparison to what he shelled out for other events. "Then he arrived in a helicopter for the traditional slaughtering of a cow," notes The Times.
Nov. 23: "In my culture, we don't eat sushi off the bodies of half-naked women. In my culture we don't, truth be told, eat sushi at all," says Peter Delmar in a Times op-ed. I cannot approve of Kunene's over-the-top spending. "In a country where grinding poverty is the daily lot of most of our compatriots, if gobbling sushi from the bellies of prone young models happens to be your thing, for crying in a bucket, please do it in private, without letting City Press get hold of the photos."
Jan. 31, 2011: The debate heats up again after Kunene opens a ZAR club in Cape Town to go along with his other one in Johannesburg. Those who argue that having women serve sushi this way amounts to "exploitation or degradation" are all "haters," says blogger Milazi. "I have no obligation, moral or otherwise, to account to anyone how I spend my money, so I don't think Kenny has either." He doesn't have to answer to anyone. "People make money because they want to get comfortable and indulge their wildest fantasies."
The president of the African National Congress Youth League was on hand for the celebration The Times runs an editorial defending its decision to run a racy photo, and lashing out at "bystanders" who "are as shameful as Kunene." Let's be careful: "Kenny Kunene should not be allowed to become the poster-boy of achievement in the new South Africa. And if we allow him to, it will be at our own peril," the editorial says.
On the same day, the government declares "eating sushi off the body of a model in a bikini is politically incorrect." It's left to be seen what comes along with that official statement.
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