NOT WITH DIRTY HANDS – Africa and Cultural Appropriation

By Adv. Leisa Leisanyane (Guest Post)

not with dirty hands

Cultural appropriation especially in fashion has recently been of serious concern in many African countries and Lesotho has not been an exception to this apparent awakening.

This past year, Lesotho and South Africa’s social media space was raging with fury after the famous English fashion line Loui Vuitton released what it called a Basotho blankets inspired design. The designs sparked numerous heated conversations and dialogues by Basotho wherein they expressed their intense disapproval of the misappropriation of their cultural identity by a foreign company.

The Seanamarena blanket, as the narrators of history recite, was handed down to Moshoeshoe I, the King of the Basotho people as a gift by European traders on or around the year 1860. Ever since then, the blankets have become more than just an accolade to Moshoeshoe I, but they also transcended into becoming a significant part of Basotho’s culture and a symbolization of a sense of great status.

Cultural appropriation/misappropriation is an act whereby someone assumes the cultural element of another person and utilizes it as if it is their own. Victims of cultural appropriation are usually the minority people, communities or countries that are less powerful in terms of resources to effectively commercialize their cultures for the modern day environment.

This is the general definition of cultural appropriation in a nutshell, and the fundamental question herein is whether or not African’s cry on cultural appropriation is justified or it is simply hypocrisy and perhaps a depiction of signs of insecurity. Calling a spade a spade, or differing in opinion is usually an arduous thing to do especially in circumstances where a majority of people hold a certain thing to be true.

It is surprisingly amusing and possibly somewhat shocking to the western world – the Americans and the Europeans, to hear Africans call them thieves of their cultural identities for personal gain. When in Africa you find almost everything that does not belong here being reproduced without a single acknowledgement or consciousness of the very cultural misappropriation.

From clothes, industrial and household equipment, language, to creative and artistic expressions and many other things that form the cultural identities of the Western world are all being remade, modified, rearranged, and adopted in many ways than one. But one hardly ever hears a cultural misappropriation concern against African rise from that side.

But why is this so? Why is it that it is not unusual to find a dressmaker or tailor around town or anywhere in the continent that is known for tailoring and designing elegant Italian suits, English or Scottish, dresses, with fabric known to be used in the UK, US, Australia or anywhere beyond Africa.

There are many other things that can be pin pointed that depict how much insecure and hypocritical our people are. It isn’t misappropriation when they feed off these works, but we on the other hand will cry out in rage to the whole world when elements of our cultural identity have been taken up and used.

If cultural misappropriation is that bad, which I hold a different opinion thereto, we don’t have a right to cry foul when our hands are just as dirty; it is being hypocritical.  Basotho’s concern and fury for their “stolen   blanket   designs”   was   unfortunately hypocrisy in purest form also.

Not when Lesotho imports almost everything, especially apparel. We wear unashamedly, English and American inspired locally produced apparel across the country and no one finds that as a big deal. This is where the point is.

The global community is made up of thousands sub communities with various cultures, and the beauty of the world is in their continuous interaction and exchange. Cultural appropriation should be   seen for its advantages as opposed to its cons.

It makes way for the rest of the world to appreciate the diversity and beauty in the global community. If it’s a crime or an unpleasant act, then Africa is just as guilty. Look on the brighter side.


Adv. Leisa Leisanyane
Business and Entertainment lawyer. LLM in Intellectual Property law candidate at Stellenbosch University. Co-founder of Leinn Inc. Legal advisor of Lesotho Music Rights Association and legal counsel for Junior Chamber of Commerce Lesotho.