It’s small wonder that copies of Khwezi sold out just days after its simultaneous launch in Johannesburg and Cape Town
Aside from being long overdue, the book about Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser raises uncomfortable questions not only about attitudes towards sexual consent but points a finger at how the law system won but how justice was failed.
Khwezi is a long-overdue book because, for more than a decade, many did not know much about Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, the woman who laid rape charges against Zuma. Following the much-publicised trial, Zuma, then deputy president, was acquitted.
For more than a decade, Khwezi disappeared off the radar, hounded out of the country in the trial’s aftermath, living in Amsterdam and Dar es Salaam before returning to the land of her birth.
Author Redi Tlhabi met Khwezi, who used the name to protect her identity during the court case, when she started working with her on a book about her; and, as she writes, given the type of person Khwezi was, it was difficult not to be drawn in personally to her story.
Sadly, after living with HIV for years, she died last year, succumbing not only to the illness but to depression and a lack of direction following her rape and the acquittal.
The book thus, by default, has become not only a memoir but also a tribute to a woman marked by her bravery and also “otherness” in the life she lived. The book is many things. It is emotionally rendered; it is incisive and causes a great deal of discomfort. It also creates a sense of shock and deep anger and even doubt. Possibly this is all for the good - because it creates a much-needed conversation.
Khwezi was the daughter of the late MK veteran, Judson Kuzwayo - a friend of Zuma’s who was detained with him on Robben Island for 10 years. Khwezi had grown up around Zuma and other ANC struggle stalwarts, and regarded the man who would later assume the highest seat in government as an “uncle”. It was on the night of November 2, 2005, during a visit to his home in Forest Town, Johannesburg, that Khwezi claimed she was raped; an official rape charge was brought against Zuma just over a month later.
As described in the book, Khwezi, who was 31 years old at the time, had apparently been sexually violated three times already when her family was living in exile: once as a five-year-old; then at the age of 12; and a year later at the age of 13.
Against this background, Tlhabi writes extensively about the sexual abuse that was going on during the apartheid years in the camps where ANC cadres were being trained. Women cadres had a two-pronged battle to fight: many arrived at ANC headquarters as young girls on a wave of revolutionary zeal but, she says, “the reality of being a female soldier soon hit many of them hard”.
Tlhabi’s well-researched testimonies and accounts of the reality at many of the camps makes for shocking reading; but, at the same time, is predictable in any conflict-ridden society, where men were in the majority and women were vulnerable - being few and far between.
They were taken advantage of, sexually harassed and raped and most sworn to silence, or remained so.
In her research, Tlhabi interviewed dozens of women. She writes: “It is hard to believe that, in a world of enduring patriarchy and gendered militarisation, ANC camps would be unique spaces where women were equal.
“The desperation of sanitising the issue is just as problematic as reducing it to a narrative of abuse.”
At another point she comments: “Sexual violence was part of the DNA of the Struggle. It is in society’s DNA today.”
All the above, coupled with the confusion that many women felt between the chasm of camaraderie and being vulnerable at the same time, is a vital lead-up to writing on Khwezi’s case.
As Khwezi testified in the trial, on the night of the rape, she was lying on top of her bed in the guest room, clothed in a khanga, when Zuma entered her room. According to her testimony, despite his entreaties during which she said “no” to him twice, he had non-consensual sex with her.
Zuma had a different version of events: his testimony, as documented, relates that Khwezi came into his bedroom and that the pair had consensual sex.
When she finally brought charges against him, she said: “I did not set out to change history I just wanted to fight for myself, at last.”
According to Tlhabi, right after Khwezi had laid the charge many people tried to get her to drop the charge.
One emissary who tried to dissuade her asked her what she thought this (laying the charge) “would do to the ANC”. Another said: “There is a bigger picture here. How dare you disrupt that? This was not rape but an act of affection.”
At the Johannesburg High Court, Khwezi was vilified, threatened and humiliated. Despite promises to the contrary, she was made to use the same entrance where ANC supporters stood, brandishing weapons and chanting. There were calls to “Burn the bitch”, and Khwezi’s photo was circulated outside the courts - and burnt. She was humiliated in the media and on social media. During the trial, she was asked deeply personal questions about her sexual history.
Tlhabi was made privy to her deepest concerns and her feelings during and after the trial. She confessed she became confused as the cross-questioning by Zuma’s lawyer, Advocate Kemp J Kemp, laid bare so many issues: primarily, what exactly is consensual sex?
“The trial,” writes Tlhabi, “offers us an opportunity to broaden the parameters of the meaning of consent. There are many examples of saying no.”
In passing judgment, Judge Willem van der Merwe, using the examples of her alleged rapes at the ages of 12 and 13, said: “The evidence concerning Godfrey and Charles was led, not to reflect on the complainant’s bad sexual history, but merely to indicate that she was prone, at a young age already, to make allegations of rape when no rape took place"
Further evidence, he said, showed that “the complainant was inclined to falsely accuse men of having raped or attempted to rape her”.
Tlhabi writes: “A court of law is intimidating. In a court dominated by males - who, by virtue of their gender, may not be acutely attuned to the vagaries of trauma and vulerability - Fezekile was othered.”
During the trial, among other things, Fezekile and her mother Beauty’s house in KwaMashu, Durban, was burnt down. Zuma remained adamant that none of Khwezi’s claims were true and he also denied that the alliance between them was that of an uncle (malume), as Khwezi contended repeatedly.
As soon as the trial was over, Khwezi and her mother were on a plane to Amsterdam where they lived from 2006 to 2010.
Khwezi told many people she felt she had been let down and, as Tlhabi records, this led to a singular restlessness and depression. What comes through consistently in Tlhabi’s profile is that, almost to her discredit, Khwezi had a “trusting and naive outlook”.
It is at the outset of this deeply disturbing but necessary book that Tlhabi asks the question: “What did South Africa learn from the rape trial? Has society had the conversation about barriers to justice for women who approach the law? Have we fully confronted the entitlement of men in positions of power to women’s bodies - and how society facilitates this entitlement by not demanding the highest moral conduct from its men?”
No doubt readers will make their own conclusions. But, hopefully by penning this book, Tlhabi has confronted issues that will not only simmer but rise strongly to the surface and remain there.